01 November, 2007

Obscure Noblewomen of Edward II's Era

In this post, I'm looking at rather obscure, non-English noblewomen, who married English husbands and lived in England during Edward II's lifetime (not necessarily his reign).

Alicia d'Avesnes, Countess of Norfolk

Alicia, or Alice, was the second wife of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and hereditary Earl Marshal of England, who died in 1306.

Alicia was the daughter of Jan d'Avesnes, Count of Hainault, who succeeded his childless cousin Jan I as Count of Holland in 1299 (Jan I of Holland was the husband of Edward II's sister Elizabeth, and died at the age of fifteen). One of her brothers was Count William III, or Guillaume or Willem, the father of Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III. Another was John, or Jean or Jan, Lord of Beaumont, though invariably known in English as 'Sir John of Hainault'. John played an important role in the invasion of Isabella and Roger Mortimer in 1326, for which Isabella and Mortimer paid him the staggeringly enormous sum of £32, 722 - perhaps even more. Another brother, confusingly also called John, was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302. He had been betrothed to Blanche of France, daughter of Philip III, who had also been betrothed to the future Edward II.

Roger, who was born around 1245, was the last of the Bigod earls of Norfolk; the first was his great-grandfather Hugh Bigod, in King Stephen's reign. Roger succeeded his uncle Roger as earl in 1270, having already inherited his father Hugh's estates in 1266. (Yes, all the Bigod men were either Roger or Hugh.) He is well-known as the man who refused Edward I's demand that he fight in Gascony in the 1290s, leading to the famous exchange: "By God, Sir Earl, you shall either go or hang." "By the same oath, Sir King, I shall neither go nor hang."

In 1271, he had married Aline Basset, daughter and heiress of Philip Basset and widow of Hugh le Despenser, killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Roger was thus the stepfather of the notorious Elder Despenser. Aline died in 1281, and Roger doesn't seem to have been particularly keen to remarry, as he waited for nine years. He was about forty-five at the time of his second wedding.

Alicia and Roger married sometime in 1290. Her age is unknown, but her new husband was about the same age as her father, who was born in 1247. Her parents married in about 1265, and her brothers William and John are thought to have been born in about 1286 and 1288; clearly, she was a good bit older, though may have been as young as twelve or thirteen at the time of her wedding. Alicia and Roger were married for sixteen years, but were childless; as his first wife had children by her first husband, but none by Roger, presumably he was infertile.

Sadly, very little is known about Alicia's life while she was married, though as Roger held vast estates in Norfolk, the Marches and Ireland, no doubt she lived a luxurious lifestyle. Roger died in December 1306, probably in his early sixties. If Alicia was in her early to mid teens at the time of her marriage, she would have been about thirty.

Alicia led an active life in widowhood. There are lots of references to her travelling abroad, including a pilgrimage to Santiago, and appointing lawyers to look after her Irish interests. Edward II spent many years chasing up his sister Elizabeth's dower in Holland, that was owed to her from her marriage to Count Jan I (died 1299), and in July 1315 sent a letter to Alicia's brother Count William:

To W. count of Hainault and Zeeland, and lord of Friesland. Request that he will pay at once to Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, and to Elizabeth his wife, countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex, the king's sister, the arrears owing to her of dower in Holland, treating them as he would wish the king to treat his sister Alice [Alicia], countess of Norfolk, in like case.

Alicia, Countess of Norfolk, never remarried, and died on 26 October 1317. A little over a decade after her death, her niece Philippa married Edward III and became Queen of England.

Alesia di Saluzzo, Countess of Arundel

Also called Alesia del Vasto, and Alasia or Alisona. Alesia was the daughter of Tommaso I, marchese di Saluzzo, and Luisa or Aluigia di Ceva, daughter of Giorgio or Guglielmo, marchese di Ceva. (Saluzzo and Ceva are towns in Piedmont, in northwest Italy.) Alesia married Richard Fitzalan, lord of Clun and Oswestry and future earl of Arundel, sometime before 1285.

Alesia's paternal grandmother Beatrice of Savoy married King Manfredo of Sicily as her second husband; Beatrice and Manfredo's daughter Constanza married Pedro III of Aragon, which means that Alesia was the first cousin of Alfonso III (betrothed to Edward II's sister Eleanor) and Jaime II of Aragon. King Manfredo of Sicily's daughter by his second marriage, Beatrice (named after his first wife?) married Alesia's brother, marchese Manfredo IV of Saluzzo. Typically confusing medieval family trees!

There was quite a rush on Saluzzo-England marriages in the thirteenth century: two of Alesia's aunts, her father Tommaso's sisters, also married English noblemen. Alesia married Edmund de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, and was the grandmother of Alice de Lacy, and Agnese married John, Lord Vescy, who held estates in Northumberland (see also below).

Alesia's brother Manfredo succeeded their father as marchese di Saluzzo in 1296, abdicated in favour of his son Federico in 1330, and died in 1340. Another brother, Filippo, was governor of Sardinia, and her sister Eleonora married the marchese di Savona. Alesia in fact had about seventeen brothers and sisters, many of whom entered the Church. Her brother Giorgio, a monk, died in England sometime after 1349.

Alesia was probably born in the late 1260s, or perhaps 1270; her husband was born on 3 February 1267. Only the date of birth of their eldest son Edmund is known: 1 May 1285. Their younger son John is rather implausibly said to have still been alive in 1375, and they also had two, or possibly three or four daughters: Maud and Margaret certainly, and perhaps also Eleanor and Alice.

Richard was the first cousin of Roger Mortimer, who had his son beheaded in 1326: he was the son of Isabella Mortimer and grandson of Roger Mortimer, who died in 1282. He was described in 1300 as 'a handsome and well-loved knight' (beau chevalier et bien amé). Richard Fitzalan became earl of Arundel in 1291, and told Edward I a little later - trying to get out of Edward's Gascony expedition - that his lands were only worth £500 a year, which wasn't much for an earl. However, he owned Clun Castle in Shropshire, Arundel Castle in Sussex, and was one of the powerful Marcher lords.

Alesia di Saluzzo, countess of Arundel, died on 25 September 1292, probably aged between twenty-two and twenty-five. Given her youth, it seems probable that her death was related to pregnancy or childbirth. She and Richard have many modern-day descendants, including blog reader Kate! :)

Blanche d'Artois, Countess of Lancaster, Leicester and Derby

Oddly, Edward II's aunt by marriage and Queen Isabella's grandmother. Blanche was the niece of Louis IX, queen of Navarre and countess of Champagne, sister-in-law of Edward I and mother-in-law of Philip IV of France. She married Edmund of Lancaster in late 1275 or early 1276, and died in 1302. Her son Thomas was beheaded by his cousin Edward II in March 1322, and her daughter Jeanne, queen of Navarre in her own right, was the mother of Queen Isabella, Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV. There's more information about Blanche in this post. Through her granddaughter Queen Isabella, and her son Earl Henry, she also has many modern-day descendants.

Isabella Beaumont, Lady Vescy

Isabella was the daughter of Louis de Brienne and Agnes de Beaumont, viscountess of Beaumont-au-Maine in her own right; she and her siblings used their mother's name. Her grandfather Jean de Brienne married Marie, Queen of Jerusalem, as his first wife, and was the father of Queen Yolande of Jerusalem. His second wife, Isabella's grandmother, was Berenguela of Castile, sister of Fernando III, Edward II's grandfather - which makes Edward and Isabella Beaumont second cousins. Isabella Beaumont was the first cousin twice removed of Roger Mortimer, the great-great-grandson of Jean de Brienne, and also a distant cousin of Queen Isabella.

Isabella was probably born sometime in the 1260s, and married John Vescy, or Vesci, Lord of Alnwick and grandson of the famous William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, in about 1280. John had no children by either of his wives, and died in or before 1289. Isabella was to be a widow for many decades.
Isabella's brother Henry, Lord Beaumont and earl of Buchan, was the grandfather of Blanche of Lancaster, first wife of John of Gaunt. Henry was loyal to Edward II until 1324, switched sides and joined Isabella and Mortimer, then took part in the earl of Lancaster's rebellion against them in 1328 and in the earl of Kent's conspiracy in 1330, and had to flee the country. Another brother, Louis, became bishop of Durham in 1319, despite being illiterate. Isabella's sister Marguerite married Bohemund VII, Prince of Antioch and count of Tripoli, a descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine's uncle Raymond of Poitiers.

Her husband John Vescy, born in 1244, had previously been married to Agnese di Saluzzo, sister of Alesia who married the earl of Lincoln, and aunt of Alesia who married the earl of Arundel, and had been widowed for at least fifteen years by the time he married Isabella. John accompanied the future Edward I on crusade in the early 1270s, and was one of the men who led a hysterical Eleanor of Castile from the room after her husband was stabbed with a poisoned dagger (the famous story that Eleanor sucked the poison out of the wound is, sadly, apocryphal). Supposedly, and bizarrely, John took one of the feet of the dead and mutilated Simon de Montfort after the battle of Evesham in 1265, and had it preserved in Alnwick priory. In 1290, John's heart was buried in the Blackfriars church with the hearts of Eleanor of Castile and her son Alfonso, a clear sign of royal favour.

Isabella was made constable of Bamburgh Castle by Edward I in 1304, an extremely rare honour for a woman - in fact, unprecedented. (The only other contemporary example I know of is Aline Burnell, sister of Hugh le Despenser the younger, made constable of Conwy in 1326.) One of Edward II's first acts on becoming king was to confirm Isabella's position. In 1311, the Ordinances of Edward II's enemies insisted that Isabella and her brother Henry be banished from Edward's court, possibly because Thomas of Lancaster viewed Isabella as a rival in the north of England, and because she was thought to have too much influence on her cousin the king. She and Henry's wife Alice Comyn, countess of Buchan in her own right, were two of Queen Isabella's ladies in waiting.

Isabella, like Henry, switched allegiance from Edward II at just the right time. However, she turned against Mortimer and Queen Isabella, and also took part in the earl of Kent's conspiracy in 1330. Her role was to send her confessor to act as a messenger between Kent and William Melton, the archbishop of York, an act of "betrayal" which enrages Queen Isabella's biographer Alison Weir, who writes of the "bitter blow" this must have been to the queen. (Not nearly as bitter a blow as his wife's rebellion was to Edward II, I suspect.) Unlike Kent's other co-conspirators, however, Isabella Beaumont was not ordered to be arrested.

Isabella Beaumont, Lady Vescy, died shortly before 1 November 1334, probably in her late sixties or thereabouts. She was survived by her brother Henry, who played an important role in the resumption of war between England and Scotland in the early 1330s.

And finally, apropos of nothing, here's an entry from the Patent Rolls of 11 December 1309, that made me smile: "Notification that on this day Agnes de Valencia is in perfect health." Agnes de Valence was one of the sisters of the earl of Pembroke, the half-niece of Henry III, Edward II's grandfather. In 1305, Edward II, rather sweetly, referred to Agnes in a letter as his "good mother", and stated that he was eager to be "your son who would willingly do and procure whatever could turn to your profit and honour". Edward lost his mother when he was six, and perhaps he found something pleasantly maternal in his older cousins Isabella Beaumont and Agnes de Valence.


Anonymous said...


Thanks Alianore for doing my family history! The cheque is in the mail...promise.

Why do you think a woman was given the honour of 'constable'? Was she particularly able...or were all the fellas off fighting? *grins*.

What a girl that Isabella Beaumont was...I also descend from her brother Henry Lord Beaumont. Skite. I know.

Thanks for all the great information, it is really great to hear of the women.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great post! Lady Vescy would make a fascinating subject for a novel, wouldn't she?

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan: thanks! Yeah, Isabella's life is fascinating - she deserves to be better known. She was incredibly astute, politically.

Kate: *grins*. Yes, I remember that you're descended from Henry - via his son John and Eleanor of Lancaster, as far as I remember.

It's interesting that there were a few men who could have been made constable - Thomas of Lancaster, the earl of Lincoln, Henry Percy, other northern barons. So I suppose Ed I genuinely wanted to honour her, and nobody seems to have complained about her appointment, either...

Carla said...

Interesting that Isabella Vesci was constable of Bamburgh, which given its location must have been almost in the front line in the Anglo-Scottish wars. I suppose in 1304 we're still 10 years before Bannockburn and the English had the upper hand, but even so it can hardly have been a sinecure. She must have been quite a lady.

Is there any political reason for the flurry of English-Saluzzo marriages, do you think?

I ought to know this, but how was Marie Queen of Jerusalem? Hadn't the crusader kingdoms largely been lost again by then?

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: yes, it's interesting that Lady V was given custody of such a large and strategically important castle, when there were so many others far removed from any possible place of invasion or conflict. And that she wasn't removed from her post a little later when Robert Bruce 'rebelled' (for want of a better word) against Edward I, and the border castles became strategic targets.

I have to confess I'm quite puzzled as to the reasons for the Saluzzo-England marriages. Richard Fitzalan's ODNB entry speculates that his marriage points to a sojourn in Italy, which is possible, but doesn't explain his wife's aunts' marriages.

Queen of Jerusalem was, I suppose, an empty title after Saladin took the city in 1187. Interesting though that there were four Queens of Jerusalem one after the other: Sibylla, her half-sister Isabella, Isabella's daughter Marie, and Marie's daughter Yolande. I think they actually lived in Tyre, though I only gleaned that info from reading the novel The Widow of Jerusalem, which features Queen Isabella. :-)

Anonymous said...

Long time lurker of this fascinating blog... thank you for all those interesting and lively information!
But please note that both the king of Sicily and the marquis of Saluzzo were called Manfredi, not Manfredo.


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Silvia! Glad you're enjoying the blog!

I was using the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy site, which uses 'Manfredo' for the marchesi and the king:



I also use this site: http://genealogy.euweb.cz/italy/saluzzo1.html

I suppose Manfredo and Manfredi are alternate spellings of the same name?

Anonymous said...

It's a great blog! Looking from the other side of Europe, it's amazing how different things were at the same time.

As for Manfredi/Manfredo: I don't know about the Marquis, but the king was most definitely Manfredi. He is a character in Dante's Comedy under that name, by the way, so it sound strange to hear it with a different spell.

There's a tradition of male names ending in "i"; in the same Kingdom of Sicily, there was a Tancredi too. Also, often Oliver was Olivieri and Roger Ruggeri.


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for the info, Silvia! I didn't know King Manfredi was in Dante, though I know of a few other European leaders of the age who were. I've heard of Tancredi, too - from about the 1190s, I think? I'm interested in King Manfredi, actually, and his father the Emperor - would like to know more about them.

Anonymous said...

He was, and how! In Purgatory, 'blond and handsome, and of noble aspect', and with his grave digged out by the Pope's men. You meet more or less all of his family in the Comedy. Is grandmother is in Heaven, and his father in Hell.

You never see Philip the Handsome, because Dante hated him so enormously that he never said his name, but he keeps talking about him.

And to come to Edward II, Dante believed that Henry III was reasonably lucky with his descent for the time being, in 1300 ('His branches bloom with better issue').

Federico II and Manfredi are fascinating figures. I'm sure that there are many biographies of the Emperor around, he was enormously important, even more than his grandfather Redbeard, and much more fascinating, even if his approach to scientific experiments was scary.

But if you love gossiping about VIP people in the thirteen century you can't go wrong with the Comedy. Anybody who was somebody is in there.

(As for Tancredi, he was Ruggieri II's illegitimate little child. He was choosen instead of Costanza, his legitimate aunt, but quite younger than him, by the Kingdom's nobility, because with Costanza the Kingdom was going to fall in the hands of her husband, an Hohenstaufen, and she was apparently barren.)


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for all the info, Silvia - fascinating, especially the part about Henry III's descendants. :)

There are a couple of biographies in English about the emperor Frederick/Federico - I must check them out. I remember that King Manfredi was his son by Bianca Lancia, an Italian noblewoman. Interesting that Federico's contemporaries called him 'Stupor Mundi'. His third wife was Isabella, sister of Henry III of England. And I saw online once a love poem he'd written to his first wife, also Constanza, daughter of the king of Aragon - who was much older than him.

Am I right in thinking that Tancredi's aunt Constanza was Federico's mother? And she gave birth to him when she was 40, in public, so that nobody would doubt that he was truly her son - as she had been thought to be barren?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Federico was the 'stupor mundi' for many reasons. He leaded what was later called a 'federician renaissance'; Manfredi is said to have translated books from Arab and was interested in unusual and deeply eretical philosophies. Unless he was an atheist, it's quite possible.

Federico was rumored to be fond of frightening scientific experiments, but he was a poet also and at his court flourished the sicilian school of poetry.

His older bastard Enzo (Heinz) king of Sardinia by marriage with Adelasia of Gallura who was born by Alayta von Urslingen Marano was a poet too.

Federico wrote a manual about hunting with hawks, too. He personally hunted with an eagle, being the Emperor :)

Costanza was the posthumous child of Ruggeri II's third wife, Beatrice of Rethel. She was born in 1154 and married in 1186; people believed that she was made a nun and then dragged out to marry the far younger Henry VI of Swebia; she carried a dowry of 12 tons of gold and the rights to the kingdom of Sicily.
Marriage was quite unhappy, and she only got pregnant in 1194, when she was already ill. She was forced to stop in Jesi to give birth and ordered to have a tent raised in the middle of the main square, so no doubt would rise that the child wasn't her.

There's a sort of biography of Costanza in English: Travels with a Medieval Queen: The Journey of a Sicilian Princess to Reclaim Her Father's Crown (Paperback)
by Mary Taylor-Simeti.


Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you for all the great info, Silvia!

I've just picked up a biography about Federico by David Abulafia (in English) and a novel about him by Cecilia Holland, called Stupor Mundi.

YvonneM said...

Hi, I did my MA Medieval Studies dissertation on the life of Isabella de Beaumont/Vescy, the result of two years intensive research on her (a process which I am still continuing today). My dissertation was, as far as I know, the only attempt till now to write her biography, and to my great excitement, right at the end of my research, I found six years worth of her original household accounts, dated in the 1290's (on parchment, with a memo from Edward I himself) in the Public Record Office, London. This gave insight into some of her movements, properties she owned, manors she held, and lots of personal details regarding her private life. Together with about 200 other sources, this document helped me piece Isabella's life together, and yes, she was an extremely remarkable lady, very clever, and a born survivor. She was also among the top ten richest women in England!
If you would like more info regarding Isabella, then I'd be glad to share it.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Yvonne! I'm delighted that you've landed on my blog, and even more delighted to hear of your fantastic (and so exciting!) discovery! Wow!!! Yes, I would love to hear more about Isabella, especially about her personal life - how kind of you to offer, thank you! Please feel free to contact me any time at: mail(at)edwardthesecond(dot)com. Really looking forward to hearing from you!