14 June, 2008

Sisters of Edward II (5): Elizabeth

Elizabeth, the fourteenth or fifteenth child of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and the fifth to survive childhood, was born at Rhuddlan in North Wales sometime in August 1282. She was three and half years younger than her closest sibling, Mary, and just twenty months older than Edward II. The name Elizabeth was unknown in the royal family before her birth, none of her relatives bore the name, and evidently Edward and Eleanor chose the name just because they liked it - very unusual!

Elizabeth was present at Caernarfon when her brother Edward was born in April 1284. The siblings spent much time together in childhood, sharing a household and attendants, and travelled everywhere together. In 1290, when Elizabeth and Edward were eight and six respectively, she gave him a silver cup (on what occasion, I don't know).

In April 1285, Elizabeth, aged two years and eight months, was betrothed to Jan, son and heir of Count Floris V of Holland. Jan was born sometime in 1284, so was a little younger than Elizabeth, and a baby at the time of his betrothal. Jan was sent to live in England at some point, in the late 1280s or beginning of the 1290s, and presumably was a companion of Edward of Caernarfon, who was the same age. His father was murdered in June 1296, and Jan, aged eleven or twelve, succeeded as Count Jan I of Holland. He returned to his homeland, leaving his fiancée behind in England.

Jan returned to England in early 1297 to marry Elizabeth, and their wedding took place in Ipawich on 18 January 1297. Elizabeth was fourteen and a half, Jan twelve. Her brother Edward, also twelve, gave them a gold cup as a wedding gift. Jan returned to Holland ten days after the wedding, but Elizabeth refused to leave England - taking a leaf out of her sister Margaret's book, as she had refused to depart for Brabant with her husband in 1294. Margaret sailed with her brother-in-law to finally join her husband Duke Jan II in Brussels, after more than two and a half years apart.

It was probably on this occasion that Edward I, sick of his daughters' wilfulness - two who refused to travel abroad with their husbands, and, soon after, another who married a squire without the king's consent - tore the jewelled coronet from Elizabeth's head and threw it on the fire. It was hurriedly retrieved, and Edward paid for the stones to be replaced. Elizabeth must have looked pretty spectacular at her wedding anyway - thirty-five tailors worked for four days and four nights to make her gown.

Elizabeth spent the next few months with her brother Edward, mostly at Windsor and Langley, and received a visit from her sister Mary in July. She finally departed for Holland on 23 August 1297, accompanying her father on one of his numerous military campaigns. Thirteen-year-old Edward remained behind as the (nominal) regent of England in their father's absence. Elizabeth was still in no rush to join her youthful husband, however, and stayed with her father until Christmas 1297.

Little is know about Elizabeth's life as countess of Holland and Zealand and lady of Friesland, except that she mostly lived in the Hague. Her husband was, of course, too young to rule in his own right, and died on 10 November 1299 at the age of fifteen. He was always a sickly boy, and given his ill health and his youth, it's quite probable that their marriage was never consummated.

Elizabeth was a widow at seventeen, and returned to England in 1300, visiting her sister Margaret in Brabant on the way. She travelled to Cawood in Yorkshire in August, to meet her stepmother Queen Marguerite, who had recently given birth to Elizabeth's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton. Marguerite had married Edward I the previous September, and the two women were around the same age. Elizabeth must also have seen her brother Edward, who sent her a sorrel horse for Christmas/New Year 1300/1301.

On 14 November 1302, at Westminster Abbey, twenty-year-old Elizabeth married Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, who was about twenty-six. This would prove to be a very fruitful union: Elizabeth bore ten children in thirteen and a half years.

Fortunately for posterity, Edward of Caernarfon's letters for 1304 and 1305 happen to survive - over 700 of them. He sent six to Elizabeth, and wrote another four concerning her affairs, addressing her as 'very dear sister' (treschere soer) which was merely conventional, and also as 'fair sister' (bele soer), which wasn't. In 1304, Edward sent Elizabeth two 'beautiful mares' from his stud, and their foals. Around this time, he also asked Elizabeth to send him her white greyhound bitch to mate with Edward's greyhound, as 'we greatly wish to have puppies from them'.

The following year, Edward asked her to ask Queen Marguerite to intercede with their father to return Piers Gaveston and Gilbert de Clare to him; along with most of the rest of his household, they had been ordered away from him at the orders of his father, with whom he had quarrelled passionately.

Elizabeth, as is usually the case with women, especially married ones, mostly disappears from the records after the early 1300s. In February 1308, she was present at Dover to welcome her brother and new sister-in-law Isabella to England after their wedding, and presumably attended their coronation a few weeks later. In June 1312, her husband Hereford was present at Piers Gaveston's murder. How Elizabeth felt about her husband's role in the death of her brother's great love can only be surmised. What kind of relationship she had with her brother after his accession, what she thought about his infatuation with Piers and the terrible conflict it caused, can only be surmised. Considering she was the sister closest to him in age, and had been his companion for much of their childhood, it's a real shame that we don't know more about their relationship as adults.

Elizabeth, as dowager countess of Holland, was entitled to a large dower, which should have been paid by Jan I's successors - his father's cousin Jan II and Jan II's son Willem III (father of Philippa of Hainault, who married Edward III). They proved most reluctant to pay it, and Edward II spent years chasing it up. As late as July 1315, nearly sixteen years after Jan I's death, a frustrated Edward was still sending letters to Willem, asking for his sister's rights, invoking Willem's sister Alicia, widow of the earl of Norfolk. The letters say, in effect, "You wouldn't like it if I withheld your sister's dower, so why are you withholding my sister's?"

Elizabeth died on 5 May 1316, at the age of thirty-three, shortly after giving birth to her tenth and youngest child Isabel, who also died. Her Wikipedia page says, oddly, "During Christmas 1315 Elizabeth, who was pregnant with her 10th child, was visited by her sister-in-law Isabella of France. This was a great honour, but the stress of it may have caused unknown health problems that later contributed to Elizabeth's death in childbirth." I really doubt that. Giving birth in the Middle Ages was somewhat akin to playing Russian roulette, and there's no need to blame poor Isabella for Elizabeth's death!

Elizabeth's children:

- Margaret, born late September 1303, died before 1 February 1304.

- Eleanor, countess of Ormond, born 17 October 1304, died 7 October 1363. Married James Butler and Thomas Dagworth, two sons and two daughters (and a son who died young).

- Humphrey, born about 20 October 1305, died 28 October 1305.

- John, earl of Hereford, born 23 November 1306, died 20 January 1336, married the earl of Arundel's daughter Alice in 1325 and Margaret Basset in 1331, died childless.

- Humphrey, earl of Hereford, born 6 December 1309, died 15 October 1361, unmarried and childless.

- Margaret, countess of Devon, born 3 April 1311, died 16 December 1391, married Hugh Courtenay and had about 94 children. (OK, about seventeen.) Margaret was the last-surviving grandchild of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

- William, earl of Northampton, born 1312 or 1313, died 16 September 1360. Married Elizabeth Badlesmere, widow of Roger Mortimer's son Edmund, and had one son and one daughter. His son Humphrey (1342-1372) succeeded his uncle Humphrey as earl of Hereford and Essex and his father as earl of Northampton, and was the half-brother of Roger Mortimer, second earl of March (1328-1360).

- Edward, born 1312 or 1313 (twin of William), married Margaret Ros, drowned on campaign in Soctland in 1334 while trying to rescue a drowning man-at-arms, died childless.

- Aeneas, born 1314 or 1315, oddly named and oddly obscure, still alive at his father's death in 1322, died before 20 September 1331.

- Isabel, born 5 May 1316, and died that day or shortly after.

17 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Poor Isabella! Amazing all of the theories you can read on Wikipedia.

Carole said...

Very informative!

Where did you get the information about the death of Elizabeth's son Edward from? I knew that he drowned in the winter of 1334, and I assumed it must have been in the Scottish campaign, but I didn't know that he was trying to rescue another man...

Alianore said...

Susan: true, and nothing beats the theories on Joan of Bar's page that she was the mistress of a king of France and the head of the priory of Sion!

Carole: afraid I can't remember offhand without trawling through all my notes, which would take forever. The other theory merely states that he drowned while trying to cross the river, but I went with the more heroic story. ;)

Carole said...

I think I would have gone with the more heroic story too, lol!

If it was true, I wonder why he dived in after a mere man-at-arms? It's not the sort of thing that I would have thought that the brother of an earl (and in this case, a cousin of the king) would normally have done - I would have thought that, if the tale was true, the man must have been a kinsman or a close friend...

Carole said...

Oh, and while I remember, I'll just make a point about another of Elizabeth's sons...

I've always wondered why Humphrey never married - I'd imagine (although I'm sure someone will put me right if I'm wrong) that for an earl not to marry was quite unusual.

If his brothers had had several sons between them then it might be explicable, but he had only one nephew in the male line - he must have had a reason for not marrying, although I know we can only guess as to what it might be at this distance of time...

Gabriele C. said...

Hehe, maybe the friendship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston was not the only very close one in that family. ;)

But Isa being responsible for Elizabeth' death? Really. The woman was responsible for a lot fo things, but not someone dying in childbed. ;)

Alianore said...

Carole: maybe, or perhaps it was mere instinct - you see someone who needs help urgently and you react, without having time to think 'he's a lower rank than me, I don't have to do anything'.

Yes, for an earl not to marry was extremely unusual - the only other one I can think of is Richmond, Ed II's first cousin. I have read (and again I can't remember where offhand!) that Humphrey and maybe his brother John too suffered from some kind of physical disability. Humphrey played no role at all in the 100 Years War, whereas his brother William was one of their cousin Ed III's main commanders. (And for an earl not to fight given half a chance was as unusual as not marrying.)

Garbriele: LOL!

Carole said...

Well, if the disability theory is correct, it scuppers the gut feeling I've always had (no evidence, though) that John died of an illness somehow related to his imprisonment 10 years earlier.

Oh, and Alison Weir (not the best source I know) describes John as "ailing" in 1330 - though that's much help as it could describe either illness or the effects of a disability.

Oh and I can never quite work out which of the brothers were involved in the Nottingham coup - most books I've read seem to mention two of the brothers, but not the same two!

Needless to say if you do remember where you read about Edward's heroics or John & Humphrey's disability, or you stumble across the relevant bit of your notes, I'd love to know, but please don't put yourself out.

Alianore said...

I really, really doubt that John's imprisonment was severe enough to give him a serious illness. I'm not saying it was fun, but he was the king's nephew, so it's safe to say he wasn't mistreated. I haven't yet found any ref to his and his brothers' release, but certainly by 1325, when he got married, and probably well before that. Other prisoners were released in 1323 - Lady Badlesmere and her family, for example.

I seem to remember the history group LMB (Later Medieval Britain) discussing the disability of the de Bohun brothers a while ago. LMB no longer exists, but might still be available via Google cache.

I'm not sure if it was Edward or William who helped arrest Mortimer in 1330, either. Edward was with his uncle Ed II shortly before the king's capture in November 1326 (which also argues against the de Bohun brothers being subjected to harsh imprisonment - otherwise, Edward would hardly have wanted to accompany his uncle).

Carole said...

Alianore, I will email you about the Bohun brothers when I've managed to get my thoughts into some sort of order! This thread is after all about their mother and my next set of thoughts will take it even further off topic...

Lady D. said...

Elizabeth sounds like another interesting daughter - I bet Ed was so sad when she left for Holland! I would love to see some of those 700 letters too (Gads, did these people spend all their time writing letters?)

And lol at Isa being blamed for Elizabeth's death in childbed - makess a change from Hugh being the scapegoat for everything!!!

Great post!

Alianore said...

Thanks, Lady D! Ed's letters (well, lots of them) were published by Hilda Johnstone in 1931, but the book is extremely difficult to find, except in uni libraries. You can see some extracts from the letters on Google Books, and JS Hamilton wrote an article about them in The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives.

Carla said...

Had they run out of all the common names by the time they got to Number 14 or 15?

I'm guessing that many of the 700 letters were official business and diplomatic correspondence (like chasing up unpaid dowries!). Is that right? If it is, then I suppose quite a lot of them amounted to "Write to Lord X and tell him he's appointed Sheriff of Blankshire" and a secretary could have dealt with it from there. Or were they mostly personal letters? (In which case 700 does sound like rather a lot - that's one a day for the two years).

Alianore said...

Carla: I suppose there were other family names they could have used, such as Blanche (Edward I's brother's wife), Beatrice (Edward I's sister and aunt) or even Sanchia (another aunt). Or Marie, for Eleanor of Castile's grandmother, or Philippa, for her mother's sister.

The majority of Ed's letters are business-related, and written by a clerk. Quite a few are personal, though, and Ed's own voice can be seen. The letters survive for one full year, I think Sept to Sept, so 700 is rather a lot!

TudorQueen6 said...

Lady Agnes (also known as Aeneas), Baroness Ferrers was the wife of Robert de Ferrers, 2nd Baron Ferrers of Chartley. Along with Margaret de Bohun, Countess of Ormond they are the ancestresses to Queen Katherine Parr; sixth wife of Henry VIII.

Kathryn Warner said...

Sorry, who's Lady Agnes Ferrers? Don't think I know her, offhand. Eleanor de Bohun, Elizabeth's eldest surviving child, was countess of Ormond, and Margaret de Bohun, her younger daughter (1311-1391) was countess of Devon.

TudorQueen6 said...

Well, well, it would seem that Wikipedia has the wrong info on this supposed ancestress! No wonder that didn't make sense!