Originally, this post was going to be called 'Marital Discord in the Reign of Edward II'. I wanted to point out that Edward II and Isabella - whose marriage, let's face it, ended about as disastrously as any marriage possibly could - weren't the only people of the era with Serious Marital Issues.
Firstly, there was the appallingly-matched Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and Alice de Lacy. Their marriage was childless, they apparently detested each other, and Alice was abducted by the Earl of Surrey in 1317, apparently with her connivance. Also, the Earl of Arundel, who refused to marry the Earl of Surrey's sister in 1304. They did in fact marry, probably in 1306, but Edmund's refusal, one imagines, can hardly have formed the basis for a mutually satisfying marriage.
Edward II's brother-in-law Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, had his first marriage to Henry III's half-niece Alice de Lusignan annulled in 1285, after they'd been living apart for at least fourteen years. And Gilbert's sister Margaret told the Pope in the 1290s that she went in fear of her life from her husband, Henry III's nephew Edmund, Earl of Cornwall. She accused him of cruelty and neglect, and although in 1290 the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered Edmund to treat Margaret with marital affection, the couple were divorced in 1294. (The future Edward II attended Edmund's funeral in early 1301.)
But the main subject of this post is Edward II's niece Jeanne de Bar and her husband John de Warenne, their spectacularly awful marriage, John's numerous illegitimate children, his high-born mistresses, and his unsuccessful-but-decades-long attempts to divorce Jeanne, which culminated in his amusingly implausible claim that he'd had an affair with Edward II's sister Mary, a nun.
John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and Sussex (and Strathearn, much later in life) was born on 30 June 1286, the only son of Joan de Vere (died 1293, daughter of Robert, Earl of Oxford) and William de Warenne, who was killed in a tournament in December 1286 when his son was less than six months old. John's aunt Isabella de Warenne was married to John Baliol, who became King of Scotland in 1292.
John's grandfather was John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey (1231-1304), the younger half-brother of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk (died 1270); he married Henry III's half-sister Alice de Lusignan, who died in early 1256. John never re-married and was a widower for almost half a century. The younger John succeeded his grandfather in September 1304, when he was eighteen, and became a ward of Edward I. The following year, Edward offered him the marriage of his granddaughter Jeanne de Bar, which John enthuasiastically accepted, and their wedding took place on 25 May 1306. Jeanne was only ten or eleven years old, John almost twenty.
Jeanne, born 1295 or 1296, was the only daughter of Edward I's eldest surviving daughter Eleanor (1269-98) and Henri, Count of Bar. Eleanor had been betrothed for many years to King Alfonso III of Aragon, but he died in 1291, and she married Henri in September 1293. Eleanor's son Edouard, born probably in 1294, succeeded his father as Count of Bar in 1302. Edouard married Marie, daughter of Duke Robert II of Burgundy; two of her sisters were Queens of France (married to Louis X and Philip VI).
[For a good laugh, check out Jeanne's hopelessly inaccurate Wikipedia page, which claims that she was the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, not to mention the mistress of the French king Jean II when he was a captive in England after 1356; Jeanne was at least sixty by then and Jean was a good twenty-five years her junior, so it seems pretty unlikely. She was not divorced from John, was married in 1306 not 1310, and was never regent of Bar.]
The first signs of marital discord came as early as 1309 - when it's quite likely that the marriage hadn't even been consummated, due to Jeanne's youth. Edward II gave John, his nephew by marriage - only two years his junior - permission to make whomsoever he chose his heir, provided that he didn't disinherit any children he might have by Jeanne.
By 1313, John and Jeanne were living apart. That spring, Edward sent his yeoman William Aune to John's Yorkshire castle of Conisbrough to fetch Jeanne to him; subsequently she lived at the Tower of London, at Edward's expense. At this time, the King's sympathies were clearly with his young niece, who was to become a close friend of Queen Isabella (the two women were about the same age).
The reason for their separation was that John was by now living with his mistress, the 'fair and comely' Maud (or Maude or Matilda) de Nerford (or Nereford or Neirford or Neyrford or Narford, etc etc). In May 1313, John was threatened with excommunication for his antics; Edward II, despite his sympathy for Jeanne, stepped in to prevent this, probably for political reasons. Since the murder of Piers Gaveston in June 1312, John had supported the King - although he was to waver several times over the years, he was loyal to Edward II far more often than not.
Maud, born around 1292, was the widow of Sir Simon de Derby and the daughter of Sir William de Nerford and Petronilla de Vaux, who married on 4 February 1288. Maud's grandfather had been Seneschal of Gascony; her great-uncle married the daughter of the Earl of Derby; her first cousin was William, Baron de Ros, who married Margery Badlesmere, daughter and co-heiress of Bartholomew, Steward of Edward II's household. William was one of the barons who informed Edward II of his deposition at Kenilworth Castle on 20 January 1327. William's sister Agnes married Payn, Lord Tibetot, who (along with John de Warenne) signed the Boulogne Agreement on 31 January 1308 and was killed at Bannockburn. Maud's uncle by marriage, William, Baron de Ros, was a competitor for the crown of Scotland in 1292 - a competition eventually 'won' by her lover's uncle by marriage, John Baliol.
Maud was thus an unusually highly born mistress, and John was determined to marry her. In 1316, he changed tactics and began a court case to divorce Jeanne. While at Westminster Palace in the company of Queen Isabella, Jeanne was cited to answer petitions of John and Maud; Edward II paid M. Simon de Invenzano two shillings a day for 142 days to prosecute the case for Jeanne. Maud claimed that she had previously contracted to marry John, which was almost certainly nonsense as she had been married to Simon de Derby, and John claimed consanguinity. He and Jeanne were indeed second cousins once removed (both were descended from Isabelle d'Angoulême), but Pope Clement V had granted them a dispensation, so there were no grounds for dissolving the marriage. John also claimed that he had been forced into marrying Jeanne against his will - also not true, as he had enthusiastically accepted the alliance to Edward I's granddaughter - that he couldn't have properly consented, as he was under twenty-one at the time, and so on...
By this stage, John and Maud had sons together, John and Thomas. Earl John was desperate for these sons to be acknowledged as his heirs. In 1316, he surrendered his lands to Edward II, and on 4 August received them back "with remainder to John de Warenna son of Matilda de Neirford, and the heirs male of his body, and failing such issue to Thomas de Warenna son of the said Matilda, and the heirs male of his body, with final remainder failing such issue to the heirs of the body of the said earl..." [Patent Rolls]
Again, it's likely that Edward II was keen to help John for political reasons - although he refused to fight for Edward in Scotland in 1314, John was for the most part a very loyal supporter of the King. But John paid the price for his desire to re-marry. In 1316, the Bishop of Chichester pronounced him excommunicate, 'for adultery and openly keeping a mistress'.
Edward II wrote two petitions to the Pope on behalf of John's sons. Here's the start of one: "The King to the Venerable in Christ: whereas our cousin John, Earl of Warenne, had two natural sons, our cousins Masters John and William de Warenne, begotten by him on a noblewoman, not married, the King asks for support of his application to the Pope on their behalf..."
Notice the different names in the petition and the Patent Rolls above: Thomas and William. This may be a mistake, or it may refer to yet another of John's sons. His son William was born early in his relationship with Maud, by the summer of 1310 at the latest, and is mentioned in the Chancery Writs of 7 March 1311: "Inspeximus and confirmation of a grant, 24 August, 4 Edward II, by John de Warenna, earl of Surrey, to his son William de Warenna and the heirs of his body..."
I don't know why this son William isn't mentioned as an heir in the Patent Rolls of 1316. Possibly because John had TWO illegitimate sons named William - one who became a knight, and one who became Prior of Horton. The son named in 1311 may be the Prior, and not stated as a possible heir of John in 1316 because John had already decided to give him to the Church. As far as I can work out, John had a whopping nine illegitimate children - more on them later.
John promised Jeanne £200 a year, a reasonably generous sum, while the court case was ongoing, and 740 marks' worth of land once the marriage was dissolved. The case dragged on for two years (some things never change, do they?) Finally, John lost. It was a highly complex case, involving members of the nobility as well - a council of nobles led by Thomas of Lancaster condemned John and Maud. John evidently held Lancaster at least partly responsible for his failure to obtain a divorce, hence his abduction of Lancaster's wife Alice de Lacy in May 1317.
1317, in fact, saw some very odd goings-on in connection with John's marriage: as well as Alice's abduction, the Earl of Pembroke was captured on his way back to England from Avignon, and held captive until an enormous ransom was paid (£10,400, worth countless millions today). Significantly, Pembroke was held in the county of Bar, and his biographer postulates that the Earl had presented a petition to the Pope (residing then at Avignon) on John's behalf, thereby infuriating Jeanne's brother Count Edouard. It's not clear if Edouard ordered Pembroke's imprisonment, but he certainly condoned it, at least. Edward II did his best to intervene with his nephew Edouard, and Pembroke arrived back in England on 23 June 1317. (Pembroke never managed to clear this enormous debt, and when his widow died in 1377, she still hadn't managed it.)
The feud between John and Thomas of Lancaster soon exploded into open warfare, and Lancaster attacked some of John's Yorkshire lands - and ejected the indignant Maud de Nerford from her property. [The private war between the two men is beyond the scope of this post, but formed a significant part of the political turbulence of the middle years of Edward's reign.]
In 1323, Maud de Nerford was granted some of John's lands in Norfolk, which later passed to their best-known child, Sir Edward de Warenne or Warren. Edward is thought to have been born in 1321, was presumably named after Edward II, and died in the late 1360s. He married Cecily, daughter of Sir Nicholas de Eton, and they had a son, John, born about 1343. Cecily and Edward thus founded the well-known Warren family of Poynton, Cheshire.
In 1325, Earl John was named captain of the English expedition to Gascony, during the War of Saint-Sardos. In 1326, he returned to England - with his wife, Jeanne, who had spent most if not all of the previous decade in her native France, latterly in the company of Queen Isabella in Paris. This may point to a reconciliation between the couple. In early 1327, they had a safe-conduct to travel abroad together. However, in 1331 Jeanne left England again with her entire household, so any reconciliation was not permanent.
At some unknown time, John and Maud ended their relationship, and John cancelled the arrangements he had made for their sons to inherit his lands. The end of the relationship led to a great deal of bitterness: Maud apparently hated him because he had 'ousted her from his company', and John did his best to prevent her holding a court case against him, complaining that the justices were members of her household and thus highly partial. Maud died sometime before 22 November 1345.
Sometime in the 1330s, John - who turned fifty in 1336 - took up with another long-term, nobly born mistress, Isabel(la) Holland. Isabel's mother was Maud, born about 1290, daughter and co-heiress of Alan, Lord la Zouche (born 9 October 1267), and the great-great-granddaughter of Henry II's illegitimate son William Longespee (and the third cousin once removed of both John de Warenne and Edward II). Isabel's father was Sir Robert Holland, a protégé of John de Warenne's great enemy Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. Lancaster's biographer has described Holland as the Earl's "junior partner", but his loyalty did not extend to committing treason, and he abandoned the Earl at the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 - Lancaster subsequently lost the battle. Edward II, horrified at Holland's treachery, imprisoned him, but he was released by Queen Isabella in 1327. On 15 October 1328, Holland was captured at Boreham Wood in Essex by some of Lancaster's adherents; they beheaded him, and sent the head to Lancaster's brother Henry.
Robert Holland and Maud la Zouche married in about 1311. Ascertaining how many children they had is difficult, but it was at least seven and may have been as many as thirteen. Their eldest son Robert was born in about 1312, and their second son Thomas in 1314; he married Edward II's half-niece Joan, the 'Fair Maid of Kent'. Thomas and Joan's sons, Isabel's nephews, were the half-brothers of Richard II. Another brother, Sir Otho Holland, was one of the first Knights of the Garter.
Isabel, John's mistress, was probably the youngest daughter of Robert and Maud, born in about 1320, or even later - so was decades younger than John de Warenne, born 1286. John's new liaison led him to make renewed efforts to divorce Jeanne, so that he could marry Isabel Holland and make any children they had together his heirs. This time, he claimed to have had an affair with Edward II's sister Mary - Jeanne's aunt - who was a nun at Amesbury. It's not impossible that John had an affair with Mary, whose vocation for the holy life was sadly lacking, but it's unlikely, not least because she was seven years his senior. It's far more likely that he chose her for an 'affair' because she was related to his wife, but conveniently dead (she died in 1332), with no children to take offence at his claims.
In the 1340s, John - well into his fifties by now - managed to get a Papal Bull declaring that his and Jeanne's marriage was invalid, but the English bishops ignored it. In 1344, a mere thirty-eight years after his wedding, Pope Clement VI commanded him to treat his wife with 'marital affection' and absolved him of any sin he may have committed with his wife's aunt. John must have wondered what else he had to do to get a divorce. Obviously keen to provide for Isabel after his death, he persuaded Edward III to agree to a series of transactions whereby many of his lands would remain in Isabel's hands for the rest of her life. However, his nephew and heir Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel - son of the Arundel executed in 1326 and John's sister Alice - petitioned Edward, pointing out that he would be deprived of a large part of his rightful inheritance by such arrangements. Edward III agreed and revoked John's settlements.
John's will is dated 24 June 1347. He died five or six days days later, either on his sixty-first birthday or the day before, and was buried at Lewes Priory. He may have been in ill health for some time, as on 13 October 1346 Edward III exempted him for life from attending Parliament on the (rather brutal) grounds that he was "too feeble to work".
John left "ma compaigne" Isabel Holland "my gold ring with the good ruby," five other gold rings, all the vestments of his chapel, all his beds he hadn't bequeathed to other people, half his livestock, all his silver vessels, a gold cup and a variety of other plate. He also left Isabel all his possessions which he hadn't specifically bequeathed to others, and made a few bequests to his children [see below]. To Jeanne de Bar, his wife of forty-one years, he left nothing.
Countess Jeanne received John's Lincolnshire lands as her dower. She died on 31 August 1361, in her mid-sixties, and was buried at Saint-Maxe, Bar-le-Duc, France. John's lands in Surrey, Sussex, Yorkshire, Shropshire, Wales, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Norfolk were shared out between John's nephew Arundel (who took the title 'Earl of Surrey' after Jeanne's death), the Earl of Salisbury, and Edward III, who used the Yorkshire lands, and the Lincolnshire lands after Jeanne's death, to endow his fourth son Edmund of Langley - John's godson.
I don't know what happened to Isabel Holland after John's death - whether she married and had children, when she died. I've read that she lived till 1389, but can't confirm it. Her family the Hollands thrived in the later fourteenth century - for example, her brother and nephew were Earls of Kent, her nephew John Holland became Duke of Exeter, her great-niece Joan Holland married Edmund of Langley in 1393 and became Duchess of York - so I suppose she was looked after.
Children of John de Warenne
William, born before 24 August 1310. He may be the Prior of Horton said in 1336 and 1339 to be the son of John de Warenne. Not mentioned in John's will, possibly because he pre-deceased his father.
John and Thomas, born by 1316 and named as John's heirs that year. In 1346, it was stated that both men "have taken the religious habit in the order of the brethren of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England, at Clerkenwell, and are professed in that order without heirs male of their bodies". Neither son is mentioned in John's will.
Sir Edward, born about 1321, married Cecily Eton, as above. He is bequeathed £5 in John's will.
Sir William, bequeathed 100 marks (£66), a silver gilt helmet with coronet, fastenings and pin, and all John's jousting armour, in John's will. He was knighted and married by this point; his (unknown) wife is left a gold brooch by John.
Ravelyn, yet another son, mentioned in the Rolls of Parliament in 1334 and named as John's son. He was involved in the Hope Attack on Ralph Butler (whatever that was). He isn't mentioned in John's will, possibly because he was dead by then.
Joan de Basing ('Joan de Basyngg'), left a cup of plain silver in John's will. Her name implies that she was already married.
Katherine, left 10 marks in John's will. She married Robert Heveningham, probably after John's death.
Isabella, left £5 in John's will. She was a nun at Sempringham, where she must have known her cousin Eleanor le Despenser, sent there in 1327.
I don't know whether Isabel Holland was the mother of any of John's children, if they were all by Maud Nerford, or if another, unnamed woman was the mother of some of them. Most of them seem much too old to be the children of Isabel Holland, who was still only in her twenties when John died in 1347.
It makes sense that John would name two of his sons William, as that was his father's name. Joan de Basing was probably named after his mother Joan de Vere (rather than his wife!), which would almost certainly make her his eldest daughter; eldest daughters were usually named after the paternal grandmother, and eldest sons after the paternal grandfather. Thomas might have been named after Thomas, Earl of Lancaster - before their huge falling-out, John was an ally of Lancaster and a member of his retinue. Isabella may be Isabel Holland's daughter, but it was also the name of John's aunt, the Queen of Scotland. John must have been named after the Earl himself, and Edward after Edward II. I don't know where the names Katherine and Ravelyn come from.