Continuing my posts on women of Edward II's reign, here's some info on
- Isabel de Clare, Lady Berkeley
- Isabel's sister Joan de Clare, Countess of Fife
- Joan's daughter Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan
- Joan's daughter-in-law Mary de Monthermer, Countess of Fife (niece of Edward II)
- Mary's daughter Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Fife
[Isabel and Isabella are the same name; I use the different spellings in a probably futile attempt to avoid confusion. :-)]
First, some background, going way back into the thirteenth century. After the death of King John (Edward II's great-grandfather) in 1216, his widow Isabelle d'Angoulême returned to France and married her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche. After Dowager Queen Isabelle's death in 1246, some of her nine children by Hugh made their way to England, where their half-brother Henry III welcomed them with open arms - much to the disgust of many of his nobles, as Henry had already shown enormous favour to the numerous Provençal and Savoyard relatives of his wife Eleanor of Provence.
The anger increased after many highly eligible English noblemen were married off to the Lusignans - John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey (1231-1304) married Henry III's half-sister Alice de Lusignan; Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, married Henry's niece Marie (she was the daughter of Isabelle d'Angoulême's eldest Lusignan child, Hugh XI, Count of La Marche); and Marie's sister Alice married the greatest prize of all, Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, future Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, in the spring of 1253. Gilbert was only about nine and a half years old at the time of his wedding; he was born on 2 September 1243. Alice was probably about the same age.
Having married very early, Gilbert the Red also embarked early on fatherhood: Isabel(la) de Clare, his and Alice's first child, was born on 10 March 1262, when Gilbert was eighteen and a half. Their second daughter, Joan, was born sometime between about 1264 and 1267.
Unfortunately, Earl Gilbert and Countess Alice detested each other, and their marriage was desperately unhappy. Alice openly supported the Lord Edward (later Edward I) against her husband in 1267, when Gilbert spectacularly fell out with Henry III and Edward over the King's failure to remove 'aliens' from the government; he even occupied London. When the crisis was over, he offered the huge sum of 10,000 marks as surety for his future conduct; the Pope, involving himself in the situation, required Gilbert to give up custody either of Tonbridge Castle, or his young daughter Isabel. Fortunately for the little girl, Henry III waived this requirement shortly afterwards.
Gilbert and Alice de Lusignan lived apart from about 1267, and were formally separated in July 1271. Their marriage was finally dissolved in May 1285. Even before this, in 1283, Gilbert's marriage to Edward I's second daughter Joan of Acre was suggested. However, the required papal dispensation wasn't granted until November 1289, and the wedding took place in London on 30 April 1290. It was around the time of Joan's eighteenth birthday - she was born in Acre, Syria in the spring of 1272. Gilbert was forty-six, going on forty-seven.
Countess Alice never re-married, and coincidentally died shortly after Gilbert's marriage to Joan, in May 1290. There was a contemporary rumour that King Edward I had an affair with Alice, his first cousin, but it's not certain.
Just before Gilbert and Joan's wedding, on 17 April 1290, Gilbert surrendered all his lands to the King, and was granted them back on 27 May, with a provision that they would pass to Gilbert's heirs by Joan, or, in the absence of any children of the marriage, to Joan's children by a later marriage. This arrangement obviously worked in the favour of the King's daughter Joan and her offspring, but excluded Isabel and Joan de Clare, Gilbert's daughters. If Gilbert and Alice de Lusignan had had a son, no doubt things would have been very different, but few people seemed to care about the disinheritance of two women. (It's also possible that it was the 1285 annulment of Gilbert and Alice's marriage that disinherited them.)
Meanwhile, Gilbert began a family with his second wife. His and Joan's first child, also Gilbert, was born in May 1291; he was followed by Eleanor (October/November 1292), Margaret (probably born in the first half of 1294), and Elizabeth (September 1295). His children by Joan were three decades younger than their half-sisters!
Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare died on 7 December 1295, at the age of fifty-two, a few weeks after the birth of his youngest child Elizabeth. All his children, one son and five daughters, survived him. Joan of Acre, only twenty-three when she was widowed, created a huge scandal in early 1297 by marrying her late husband's squire, Ralph de Monthermer. Their eldest child Mary was born in October 1297, and they also had Joan (born 1299, a nun at Amesbury), Thomas (born October 1301) and Edward (born 1304). Countess Joan was pregnant with Mary when she faced her father with the news. The King was furious, as he was in the middle of arranging her marriage to the Count of Savoy. [Joan and Ralph de Monthermer's four children were also excluded from the de Clare inheritance.]
Before his marriage to Alice was annulled, Gilbert the Red had arranged the marriage of his second daughter Joan - but not his elder daughter Isabel, oddly. Around 1284, when she was between about seventeen and twenty, Joan married Duncan [Donnchadh in Gaelic] MacDuff, the Earl [Mormaer] of Fife, who was born in about 1262/63. Whether the marriage was satisfactory is impossible to say, but the Chronicle of Lanercost said of Duncan that "as a young man he was cruel and greedy beyond all that we commonly have seen". Duncan was one of the Guardians of Scotland after the death of Alexander III in March 1286, and was murdered on 25 September 1288 [1289 according to some reports], by Sir Patrick Abernethy and Sir Walter Percy, still only in his mid-twenties. The reasons for his murder are unknown, but may have something to do with the growing unrest in Scotland; in 1288/89, little Queen Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was still in her native country, and the Bruces and Baliols, claimants to the throne, were becoming restless.
Joan de Clare was now a widow with two children: her daughter Isabel [see below] was born in about 1285/86, and her son, also Duncan, in 1288/89. The younger Duncan was probably posthumous, and succeeded his father as Earl of Fife. Duncan and Isabel MacDuff were older than Gilbert, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare, their half-aunts and uncle.
The failure of Gilbert de Clare to arrange a marriage for his eldest child Isabel is decidedly odd. Even after 1285 or 1290 when she was no longer his heiress, Gilbert was the richest and most powerful man in England after the King, and Isabel was still his daughter. Arranging a good marriage for her should have been easy. However, poor Isabel didn't marry until 1297, after her father's death, when she was thirty-five, and I'm not even sure if she really was married, or only betrothed. Her husband or fiancé was Guy Beauchamp, who succeeded his father as Earl of Warwick the following year, 1298. Guy was a decade Isabel's junior, probably born in 1272. If they did marry, it ended in divorce around 1302.
Isabel definitely married, around 1316 when she was well into her fifties, Maurice de Berkeley, who became Lord Berkeley in 1321. He was also much her junior, born in 1271, and had several children; his eldest son Thomas, son-in-law of Roger Mortimer, would later become notorious as Edward II's jailer at Berkeley Castle. Maurice and Thomas joined the Marcher rebellion of 1321/22 against Edward II, and were imprisoned. Maurice died on 31 May 1326, at Wallingford Castle.
The reason for Maurice's marriage to Isabel was presumably because of the division of the de Clare estates; he was no doubt hoping to force himself a share in them. Gilbert the Red's son Gilbert was killed at the battle of Bannockburn at the age of twenty-three in June 1314, childless; his heirs were his three full sisters Eleanor (married to the Younger Despenser), Margaret (the widow of Piers Gaveston, married to Hugh Audley in 1317), and Elizabeth (widow of John de Burgh and Theobald de Verdon, married to Roger Damory in 1317).
The division of the vast de Clare lands took years, partly because Gilbert's widow Matilda de Burgh claimed pregnancy, and then because some of the IPMs (Inquisitions Post Mortem) mistakenly named Gilbert's half-sister Isabel de Clare as one of his heirs, instead of his full sister Elizabeth. Eventually, the division was completed. Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare and their husbands all received lands in England, Wales and Ireland; their half-sisters Isabel and Joan received nothing. What kind of relationship, if any, the older de Clare women had with their much younger half-siblings, I don't know.
Back in Scotland, Joan de Clare's adventures continued. She complained to Edward I in 1299 that, on her way back to England to save her possessions from the Scots, she was abducted by Sir Herbert de Morham between Stirling and Edinburgh. She refused to marry him, so he imprisoned her and stole horses, clothes and jewels from her, to the enormous value of £2000. [Morham was executed at the Tower of London on 7 September 1306, for allegiance to Robert Bruce.]
Joan married, sometime before 1302, Sir Gervase Avenel, a Scots nobleman. They declared fealty to Robert Bruce, so Edward I declared her lands forfeit. Later, Edward II confirmed the forfeiture of Joan's estates in England - which she had been granted by her father as a marriage portion when she married the Earl of Fife - and gave them to her brother-in-law, Hugh le Despenser theYounger.
Sir Gervase Avenel died in 1322. The date of Joan's death is unknown, but she outlived him. In 1322, she was in her mid to late fifties.
Her sister Isabel de Clare, Lady Berkeley, died either in 1333 or 1338, when she was in her seventies. She had spent only about ten years of her life as a married woman, and her husband was imprisoned for five of those.
Meanwhile, Joan de Clare's son Duncan MacDuff, the young Earl of Fife, was growing up at the English court, and may have been a companion of the future Edward II. In 1306, King Edward I arranged Duncan's betrothal - to Mary de Monthermer, daughter of Joan of Acre, and Edward's granddaughter. For Gilbert's children by Joan of Acre, this meant that their half-sister married their half-nephew! [Got to love those medieval family trees.] The papal dispensation for the marriage was granted on 4 November 1307, and presumably the wedding took place soon afterwards. Duncan would have been about eighteen, Mary only ten.
Duncan stayed in England until November 1314 - presumably he didn't fight at Bannockburn that year. Returning to Scotland, he entered Robert Bruce's fealty and was restored to his lands; his wife Mary remained in England at the court of her uncle Edward II until January 1320. Duncan fought at the Battle of Dupplin Moor in August 1332, on the side of Bruce's nephew and Edward II's close friend, Donald, Earl of Mar. He was sentenced to death by Edward III in 1346, after his capture at the battle of Neville's Cross, but was reprieved.
Earl Duncan died in 1353, in his mid-sixties. He and Mary de Monthermer had only one child, Isabella, who was born around 1320, and presumably conceived after Mary's arrival in Scotland in January 1320. Countess Mary and her young daughter were captured at Perth in 1332 by supporters of the King, David II. They were sent to Northumberland, where Isabella MacDuff ended up marrying her guardian, Sir William Felton, sometime between 7 October 1332 and about 1340, when their eldest child John was born.
Although Duncan had fought on the side of David II at Dupplin Moor, he was captured after the battle, and made peace with Edward Baliol, as the price of his liberty. On 24 September 1332, he finally performed his hereditary duty of crowning the King of Scots. David II, after his resumption of power, declared Duncan's earldom of Fife forfeit, and after Duncan's death, tried to grant it to his friend William Ramsay. However, he had to back down, and in 1363, finally granted it to Isabella MacDuff.
Mary de Monthermer, Countess of Fife and niece of Edward II, turned out to be one of those long-lived medieval women, dying sometime after 30 March 1371, well into her seventies. Her daughter Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Fife in her own right, married four times, and died around 1389/90, having resigned the earldom of Fife in 1371 to Robert Stewart, the first Duke of Albany, one of the many sons of King Robert II.
Countess Isabella's second husband Walter Stewart was another son of Robert II - who was the son of Marjorie, Robert Bruce's daughter, sentenced to be imprisoned in a cage at the Tower of London in 1306 [see below] - and was many years her junior; his father was born in 1316, his parents didn't marry until 1336, and he wasn't even the eldest child. However, Isabella outlived him, and her two subsequent husbands.
Having run through four husbands, Countess Isabella lived as a widow for around twenty years.
And now, perhaps the most interesting part of the post, about one of the most famous Scottish women of the Middle Ages: Joan de Clare's daughter Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan. [I should point out that some authorities believe Isabel to be the sister of the Duncan murdered in 1288, and not his daughter, but I think this is a mistake.]
Isabel MacDuff - known as Iseabail Dhuibh or Iseabail inghean Dhonnchaidh ('Isabel daughter of Duncan') in medieval Gaelic - is the heroine of Barbara Erskine's popular time-slip novel Kingdom of Shadows. Born in 1285 or 1286, Isabel was married in the late 1200s or early 1300s to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, who was decades her senior, born sometime in the 1250s. He was a cousin and close ally of John Baliol, crowned King of Scots in 1292.
As a supporter of John Baliol, the Earl of Buchan was implacably opposed to Robert Bruce, who was Baliol's greatest rival. Buchan worked in close association with his cousin of the same name, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who was known as 'the Red Comyn' and was the nephew of King John Baliol. The Comyns were an immensely powerful family who had dominated Scottish politics in the thirteenth century, and were the hereditary enemies of the Bruce family.
John 'the Red Comyn' and his uncle Robert were stabbed to death by Robert Bruce before the high altar of the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, on 10 February 1306. It's impossible now to discover what really happened in that church; Scottish chronicles claim that Comyn was planning to betray Bruce to Edward I, while an English chronicle claims that Bruce made up the charge of treachery to provoke Comyn into a fight. Whether the murders were pre-meditated is also unknown.
In the middle of these unhappy events, Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, came to the forefront. She held vastly different political views to her husband, and, only a few weeks after the murder of her husband's cousin, she crowned Robert Bruce as King of Scots, on 25 March 1306. Isabel and Bruce were second cousins once removed; Bruce's paternal grandmother was Isabel de Clare, aunt of Gilbert the Red. Isabel was said to be Bruce's mistress, but under the circumstances this claim was practically inevitable. Whather there was any truth in the accusation is unknown.
The MacDuff clan had the hereditary right of crowning the Scottish Kings, but Isabel's brother Duncan had been too young to crown John Baliol in 1292, and was unable to be present at Bruce's coronation, as he was at the English court. So Isabel performed the sacred duty, at Scone near Perth. Edward I had recently removed the Stone of Scone, traditionally used in the coronations of the Kings of Scotland (it remained in Westminster Abbey until returned to Scone in 1996, exactly seven hundred years after its removal) so they had to do without.
One chronicle asserts that Isabel stole her husband's horses to reach Scone and abandoned her husband 'with deception'; however, Buchan was in England at the time, so such 'deception' wasn't necessary. Isabel never saw her husband again. Given Bruce's recent murder of his cousin and friend, he had no wish to be reconciled with Isabel.
Of course Isabel's feelings regarding her husband are unknown. Did she regret her actions in going over to Bruce? Did she hate Buchan? Barbara Erskine's Kingdom of Shadows makes Buchan a brutal wife-beater, who even hits Isabel when she's pregnant, so that she loses their baby. This conveniently absolves Isabel from having to feel guilt over betraying him - and makes for very bad fiction, in my opinion. It would make the story far more compelling if she loved and respected her husband, but supported Bruce politically, giving her a difficult choice to make. And depicting Buchan as a one-dimensional wife-batterer seems a cheap and manipulative way of creating sympathy for Isabel.
But to return to the historical story: Isabel's actions brought her a far more dangerous enemy than her husband: King Edward I. He harboured a terrible hatred for Robert Bruce, who had long been his ally, and his subsequent behaviour proved his desire to take brutal revenge on anyone who had been present at Bruce's coronation.
In July 1306, King Robert sent his womenfolk to Kildrummy Castle for safety, in the care of Nigel (or Neil), one of his four brothers. However, the castle was taken in September by Aymer de Valence, future Earl of Pembroke and brother-in-law of the murdered Red Comyn. Nigel Bruce was grotesquely executed in Berwick in September 1306, John de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, in London on 7 November. (Atholl was married to Marjorie of Mar, the sister of Bruce's first wife.)
Before the castle was taken, the women were taken north, perhaps trying to reach Norway, where Bruce's sister Isabel had been Queen. However, they were captured by William, (Uilleam) Earl of Ross, who was a first cousin of the Earl of Buchan and the Red Comyn through his mother. [King Robert Bruce proved himself surprisingly capable of forgiveness, however; William's son Hugh (Aodh) later became a favourite of the King, and married his sister Matilda.]
Bruce's second wife Elizabeth de Burgh was held under honourable house arrest in Burstwick; fortunately for her, she was the daughter of Edward I's ally the Earl of Ulster. Bruce's sister Christina was taken to Sixhills nunnery, his little nephew Donald of Mar to Bristol Castle, and his daughter Marjorie, by his first wife, to Watton priory. (The original plan to incarcerate Marjorie in a cage at the Tower of London was abandoned, Edward I apparently deciding that inflicting such cruelty on a girl of about ten was too mad, even for him.)
Isabel MacDuff and Bruce's sister Mary suffered the most. They were ordered to be shut up in cages suspended from an outer wall of a castle, Isabel at Berwick, Mary at Roxburgh. The order to imprison Isabel in a cage, and the fate of the other Scottish prisoners, can be read here (in French), where she's called "la contesse de Baghaun" (Buchan). Her cage was of latticed wood, with iron hinges, and completely open; she had a private privy, but otherwise was exposed to the elements and the ridicule of the general populace. Edward I allowed four pence a day for her upkeep, and she had two women to provide her with food and drink.
There was nobody who could or would stand up to Edward I over Isabel's imprisonment. Her grandfather Gilbert the Red surely would have, but he was long dead, as was her father. Her brother Duncan was little more than a hostage at the English court and powerless to help, and at any rate, was only about seventeen. Isabel's half-uncle Gilbert de Clare was only fifteen. The Earl of Gloucester in 1306 was Ralph de Monthermer, who was the future father-in-law of her brother, but if he tried to help her, it had no effect. As it happened, her husband Buchan was the only person who could help her; and he emphatically would not.
Edward II finally released Isabel from the cage, but not nearly as soon as I'd like - probably not until June 1310. Presumably, she was then held in the castle itself, or perhaps a nearby convent. (Mary Bruce was apparently released from her cage at Roxburgh much earlier.) Even this didn't mark the end of Isabel's captivity - she was handed over to the custody of Henry Beaumont in April 1313. Beaumont was the husband of Alice Comyn, niece of Isabel's husband, and later Earl of Buchan in her right.
The Earl of Buchan himself, John Comyn, was heavily defeated by Bruce in May 1308. He fled to England, and died sometime between August and December 1308. He and Isabel had no children. His cousin John the Red Comyn had married Joan de Valence, sister of Aymer, Earl of Pembroke; their teenage son John Comyn was killed at Bannockburn in 1314, fighting on Edward II's side - understandably - leaving an infant son Aymer, who died in 1316. [This John Comyn was married to Margaret Wake, who was a widow for more than eleven years before marrying Edward II's half-brother the Earl of Kent in late 1325. She was the mother of Joan, the 'Fair Maid of Kent', and the grandmother of Richard II.] Little Aymer's death marked the end of the Comyns, the family who had dominated Scottish politics in the thirteenth century.
However, the Red Comyn also had two daughters: Joan, who married David, Earl of Atholl, son of the man executed by Edward I in November 1306 - David remained loyal to Edward II, surprisingly enough - and Elizabeth, who was one of the women harrassed for her lands by the Younger Despenser in the 1320s. [The Red Comyn is the nineteen-greats grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, through Elizabeth Comyn.]
Isabel MacDuff's ultimate fate is, sadly, not known. When Robert Bruce's relatives were finally released from English custody in 1314, after the battle of Bannockburn, Isabel was not one of them. This nice website endeavours to keep her memory alive, and there's another site about her here (though it gets some small details wrong - for example, Isabel was older than her brother). It would be comforting to think of her living out her life somewhere in obscurity, free; but the sad reality is that she almost certainly died in captivity, a harsh, brutal and vindictive captivity.