15 June, 2010

Marie de St Pol, Countess of Pembroke (1)

Today, the first part of a post about Edward II's kinswoman Marie de St Pol, countess of Pembroke, who was a wife for less than three years and a widow for fifty-three, and who was born in Edward I's reign and failed by only three months to live into the reign of his great-great-grandson Richard II; she was born in 1303 or 1304 and died on 16 March 1377. Countess Marie is best known nowadays for founding Pembroke College, formerly the Hall of Valence Marie, at Cambridge University in 1347.

Marie de St Pol, who is also sometimes known as Marie de Châtillon, was the daughter of Guy de Châtillon, count of St Pol (d. 1317) and Marie de Dreux (d. 1339), daughter of Duke John II of Brittany, whose peculiar death I wrote about recently on Edward II's Facebook page: he was killed by a collapsing wall as he led Pope Clement V's horse around Avignon in 1305. Duke John II's wife, Marie de St Pol's maternal grandmother, was Beatrice, one of the sisters of Edward I of England, which makes Marie the great-granddaughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence and thus Edward II's first cousin once removed. Marie was very well-connected to European nobility: her aunts and uncles included the duke of Brittany, the earl of Richmond, the abbess of Fontevrault, the count of Blois and the countesses of Artois and Eu, and her brothers and sisters were count of St Pol, lord of Ancre, ladies of Coucy and Crèvecœur, and countess of Valois (Marie's eldest sister Mahaut married Philip IV of France's brother Charles de Valois as his third wife; Mahaut's children, half-siblings of Philip VI of France, were Holy Roman Empress, duchesses of Calabria and Bourbon and Louis, count of Chartres, who was proposed as a potential husband for Edward II's daughter Joan of the Tower in 1323). Marie de St Pol was also the first cousin of Earl Thomas of Lancaster: they were both grandchildren of Matilda of Brabant, who married firstly Louis IX of France's brother Robert, count of Artois (d. 1250) and secondly Guy de Châtillon the elder (d. 1289), count of St Pol.

In late March 1321, Edward II - then also corresponding with King Jaime II of Aragon regarding the possible marriage of his elder son Edward of Windsor to Jaime's daughter Violante - asked Pope John XXII to grant a dispensation for Marie (Mariam de Sancto Paulo) to marry Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, another close relative of the king. [1] Aymer was many years Marie's senior, born around 1270 0r 1275 as the third but only surviving son of William de Valence, earl of Pembroke (1225-1296), one of the unpopular de Lusignan half-siblings of Edward II's grandfather Henry III (children of King John's widow Isabelle d'Angoulême by her second husband) and Joan de Munchesney or Munchensi (d. 1307), granddaughter of the great William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. Aymer had three sisters: Isabel, who married John, Lord Hastings and had issue; Joan, who married John the Red Comyn, lord of Badenoch, and was the mother of the Comyn sisters; and Agnes, whom the future Edward II rather poignantly addressed as his "good mother" in a 1305 letter and whose three marriages to the lords of Offaly, Balliol and Avesnes remained childless. Aymer's two elder brothers were William, killed at the battle of Llandeilo Fawr in June 1282 during Edward I's campaign in Wales, and John, who died as a child in 1277.

Aymer de Valence married firstly, before 18 October 1295, a French noblewoman named Beatrice de Clermont-Nesle, whose father Ralph de Clermont was constable of France and lord of Nesle in Picardy. [2] Almost nothing is known of their married life or of the lady herself - she seems remarkably obscure for a countess - and Beatrice died childless shortly before 14 September 1320. Edward II sent "five pieces of silk, embroidered with birds" to lie over Countess Beatrice's body at the conventual church of Stratford in London, and on 8 February 1321 attended a mass there in her memory. [3] The widowed Aymer de Valence, then aged about fifty, married Marie de St Pol, aged about seventeen, in Paris on 5 July 1321, on the same day that Isabella of France gave birth to her and Edward II's youngest child Joan of the Tower a couple of hundred miles away. [4] What is rather odd is that Aymer had no children by either of his wives, but did father an illegitimate son named Henry de Valence, old enough to serve in Aymer's retinue from about 1314 onwards and to marry a woman named Margery, but who pre-deceased his father, sometime before 23 June 1322. [5] Needless to say, the identity of Aymer's mistress is unknown.

Marie de St Pol, the teenaged countess of Pembroke, arrived in an England torn apart by the Despenser War and Edward II's subsequent successful campaign against the Contrariants. Although her new husband remained loyal to the king and played an important role in the king's victory, it seems that the Despensers never forgave Aymer for urging their exile in August 1321: Edward II forced Aymer to swear on the gospels in June 1322 that he would always be obedient and faithful to him, because "the king was aggrieved against him for certain reasons…and could not assure himself of the earl" and made Aymer swear that he would not ally himself against the king or "anyone whom the king will maintain," surely a reference to the Despensers. [6] Although an anonymous letter of April 1324 named Aymer, with Hugh Despenser the Younger, as one of the men closest to the king (les plus privetz le roi), in fact the remaining years of his life after the Despensers' return from exile in early 1322 were spent in the shadows, his influence over Edward II minimal to non-existent. [7] Edward's decidedly unfair and unjust mistreatment of Aymer, his cousin and a man who had been his faithful ally for almost all of his reign, was to have a profound effect on Marie de St Pol after Aymer's sudden death - which I'll look at in the second part of this post.


1) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 446.
2) J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, pp. 5-6.
3) Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), pp. 338-339; Phillips, Valence, p. 191.
4) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, pp. 12-13; Phillips, Valence, p. 206.
5) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 141; Phillips, Valence, pp. 116, 255, 267, 302.
6) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 563-564.
7) Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, p. 42.


Ragged Staff said...

And you think the Nevills are confusing! I'm going to have to read the first part of that again, I think, to try and get my head around it. Can't wait for part 2.

Anerje said...

So this is not the famous wife that Aymer could not resist visiting in 1312 at Bampton? Intriguing story, nonetheless, as Marie must have had a fascinating life, having lived for so long.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Yeah, Mediaeval marriage alliances are a mess.

Though sorting the Julio-Claudian dynasty isn't fun, either. The Romans got a divorce much more easily and adoptions happened all the time; that's not making things any better.

Kathryn Warner said...

Ragged Staff, medieval noble genealogy is bonkers, isn't it?? ;)

Anerje, that was Beatrice of Clermont-Nesle, and I do wonder why Aymer was so mad keen to abandon Piers and visit her, seeing as they'd been married a good 17 (childless) years by then.

Gabriele, I imagine Roman families are even more complicated to sort out! When I read I, Claudius, I had to keep referring to the family tree at the beginning and would have been lost without it!

Anonymous said...

The anniversary of Piers' death approaches. According to the British Archaeological Association in the 19th century "...two of Gaveston's brothers were likewise interred in the same church" (Langley) There must therefore be some historical evidence for this but no recent historians seem to mention it. Piers' brother Guillaume-Arnaud died in 1312, but if another brother continued living in England after 1312 and eventually died there it seems strange that he does not appear in the records, since other relatives of Piers are mentioned after 1312.

Carla said...

Interesting that she chose to found a college. Was she highly educated, do we know?

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, I don't know anything at all about her education, unfortunately. :( She may have been inspired by her friend Elizabeth de Clare, Edward II's niece, who founded Clare College in 1338.

Anon, a very sad anniversary. :( I have to admit to being terminally confused by Piers' family. His elder brother Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan (full brother but used their mother's name) lived till about 1324 in Gascony, and sometimes crops up in records, and a Fortaner de Lescun who was certainly a close relative was still around in the 1340s.

Mike F said...

As to Carla's question; perhaps "Marie of Saint-Pol and her Books" by Sean L. Field
English Historical Review (2010) CXXV(513): 255-278 might suggest an answer. I suggest thea the short answer is yes!

Jo said...

Enjoyed reading this account of Aymer de Valence, partly because I'm a descendant (via many modern era Vallances)of his bastard son Henry (1295-1330). I only wish I knew who the latter's mother was!


Bren said...

Jo, what can you tell me about Henry? I have been trying to find out about him. We may be related!


Kathryn Warner said...

I'd also be really interested to learn more about Henry!

Unknown said...

Came across your very interesting blog about Marie de St. Pol while searching for Henry de Valence, illegitimate son of Aymer de Valence. I've been trying to document oral family history that we are related to his grandmother, Isabel of Angouleme through her son William de Valence who received land in Ireland from his half brother King Henry III of England. If "Jo" who left a message on this blog in Jan 2012 is reading this - please let me know if you know anything about Henry de Valence, son of Aymer and whether he had issue. It is the only explanation for how there are still Vallences in Ireland that I can think of. This has been a 30 year quest for me - and "Jo" has not left her contact info that I can find. Thank you again for all this great info about the most fascinating period in our western history. Maggie Fimia mfimia@zipcon.com