29 June, 2010

Basins, Crystal Cups And Illegitimate Children: Fourteenth-Century Wills

Inspired by Susan Higginbotham's recent posts on wills written by Anthony Woodville and other nobles of the fifteenth century, and partly by a recent comment here on the blog, here's a post about wills of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In this era, it was usual to write your will only when you were dying or thought you were dying, with the unfortunate result that a lot of people died intestate. Sadly Edward II was one of them, which is a huge shame. Anyway, here's a look at the wills of some of the people close to him (which are in French in the original).

As an exception to what I wrote above, Edward's father Edward I wrote his will while on crusade in June 1272 and, oddly, never updated it, though he lived for another thirty-five years. His father Henry III was still alive then - he died later that year - and Edward's heir at the time was his second eldest son, also Henry, born in 1268 (and died in 1274, shortly after Edward's return to England and his coronation). Edward appointed as his executors his brother-in-law John, future duke of Brittany, his half-uncle William de Valence, Anthony Bek, future bishop of Durham and patriarch of Jerusalem, his friend Sir Otto Grandisson, and others, whom he requested to bury his body wherever they saw fit and to look after his children should he and his father die while the children were still under age. "We will that the realm of England, and all other lands which should descend to our children, remain in the hands of our executors before named, and also in those of our dear father the archbishop of York..." Lastly, Edward requested his executors to ensure that the dowry of "our dear wife Eleanor" (nostre chere femme Alianore) be administered as well and profitably as possible.

Edward II's son Edward III made his will on 7 October 1376; he was seriously ill at this time and had just buried his eldest son the prince of Wales, and was not expected to live much longer. (See Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, pp. 387-388.) In the end, as it happened, Edward lived a few more months and finally died in June 1377 at the age of sixty-four. The king left to his nine-year-old grandson and heir Richard of Bordeaux, the future Richard II, "an entire bed, marked with the arms of France and England, now in our palace at Westminster," and to Richard's widowed mother Joan of Kent (daughter of Edward II's half-brother executed in 1330) the generous sum of a thousand marks (£666). Edward also left 300 marks to his eldest daughter Isabella, countess of Bedford, and one of the ten men he appointed as his executors was his eldest surviving son John of Gaunt, carefully referred to as "king of Castile and Leon and duke of Lancaster" (Gaunt was married to Constanza, elder daughter and heir of King Pedro the Cruel of Castile). Edward requested burial at Westminster, and left money for masses to be sung for the souls of himself and Queen Philippa, who had died in 1369.

Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare (b. 1295) made her will on 25 September 1355, though she lived until November 1360; the will is extremely long, and Elizabeth appears to have left bequests to just about every person she had ever met. She left money for masses to be sung for the souls of her three husbands John de Burgh, Theobald de Verdon and Roger Damory, whom in typical fourteenth-century fashion she called 'my lords', mes seignours. The heir to Elizabeth's vast lands and properties was her granddaughter Elizabeth de Burgh (b. 1332), only child of Elizabeth's son William, earl of Ulster; the younger Elizabeth married Edward III's son Lionel, and her grandmother bequeathed her, rather snippily it seems, "all the debt which my son, her father, owed me on the day he died" (tote la dette qe mon fils son piere me devoit le jour q'il morust). Elizabeth, however, clearly enjoyed a close relationship with her youngest and only surviving child Elizabeth (Damory) Bardolf, to whom she left a "bed of green velvet," bed hangings and coverlets decorated with parrots and cockerels, and her - enormously expensive - travel carriage (char) with all its necessary equipment. She also left items to various friends and relatives: to her first cousin Jeanne de Bar, an image of St John the Baptist; to her close friend Marie de St Pol, a "little cross of gold with a sapphire"; to Henry, duke of Lancaster, a psalter. One of Elizabeth's executors, and one of her most trusted household officials for many years, was Sir Nicholas Damory, who I assume must have been a relative of her third husband Roger Damory, though unfortunately the precise connection still eludes me. Elizabeth asked for her body to remain above ground for fifteen days after her death and then to be buried at the 'Sisters Minories beyond Aldgate' in London, and left money for 200 pounds of wax to burn around it.

Edward II's nephew Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford - born in 1309 as one of the many children of Edward's sister Elizabeth and the earl of Hereford killed at Boroughbridge in 1322 - wrote his will on 4 October 1361, and died eleven days later. (He died unmarried and childless, and, given that he played no role whatsoever in his cousin Edward III's wars with France and Scotland, although his younger brother William, earl of Northampton did, must presumably have suffered some kind of illness or disability.) Humphrey asked to be buried with the Augustine Friars of London, "before the high altar, without any pomp, and that no great men be invited to our funeral, which shall only be attended by one bishop and by common people." He bequeathed to his namesake, nephew and heir Humphrey (William of Northampton's son) a gold brooch "surrounded with large pearls, a ruby between four pearls, three diamonds, and a pair of gold paternosters of fifty pieces, with ornaments, together with a cross of gold, in which is a piece of the true cross of Our Lord." Humphrey also left items to his sister Eleanor, countess of Ormond, his other sister Margaret and brother-in-law Hugh Courtenay, earl and countess of Devon, and his niece Elizabeth, future countess of Arundel; these items included "a large sapphire stone of a fine blue colour" and a basin "in which we are accustomed to wash our head." The earl remembered many of his servants in his will, and requested that "a chaplain of good condition be sent to Jerusalem principally for my lady my mother, my lord my father, and for us [himself]; and that the chaplain be charged to say masses by the way at all times that he conveniently can, for our souls." Rather pointedly perhaps, given that Humphrey's father had died in battle against Humphrey's uncle Edward II in March 1322, Humphrey left forty shillings to be offered at the tomb of Thomas, earl of Lancaster in Pontefract, but nothing for Edward's tomb.

William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, died in June 1298, and was the grandfather of Edward II's favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger and father of Guy, earl of Warwick, who abducted Piers Gaveston in 1312. William made his will on 14 September 1296 and asked, if he died "within the compass of the four English seas," to be buried with the Greyfriars of Warwick or otherwise at the Greyfriars house nearest to where he died, and his heart to be buried where his wife Maud FitzJohn (who died in 1301) "may herself resolve to be interred." William left one hundred pounds "to the maintenance of two soldiers in the Holy Land" and all his silver vessels to Countess Maud, including the one which contained the inevitable fragment of the True Cross. His son Guy received his "best suit" and a gold ring with a ruby in it, and William also left fifty marks to two of his (unnamed) daughters, nuns at Shouldham Priory, though nothing to his daughter Isabella Despenser or her children.

Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, son of the former and enemy of Edward II, wrote his will at Warwick Castle on 28 July 1315 and died on 12 August, probably in his early forties. He asked to be buried at Bordesley Abbey in Worcestershire "without any funeral pomp," and left his wife Alice Toeni "a proportion of plate, with a crystal cup and half my bedding, and also all the vestments and books belonging to my chapel." Two sons are mentioned: Thomas, the elder and future earl of Warwick, then only eighteen months old, received Guy's "best coat of mail, armour and suit of harness, with all that belongs thereto," and John was bequeathed the second best. Two daughters, Maud and Elizabeth, are mentioned, bequeathed half of their father's beds, rings and jewels; Maud also received a crystal cup and Elizabeth "the marriage of Astley's heir" (Thomas Astley, her future husband).

Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, Edward II's first cousin once removed, wrote his will on 15 March 1361 and died eight days later, probably in his early fifties. He requested to be buried in the Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Newarke at Leicester, which he had founded, three weeks after his death, and asked Edward III and Queen Philippa to attend the funeral. Henry appointed his eldest sister Blanche, Lady Wake, as one of his executors; his daughters Maud and Blanche are not mentioned in the will.

Edward II's nephew by marriage, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, wrote his will on 24 June 1347 and died five or six days later, either on his sixty-first birthday or the day before. I've written before about John's will, which includes provisions for six of his (at least nine) illegitimate children and his mistress Isabel Holland, but not a single thing for his wife Countess Jeanne. The full text of the will, in English and the original French, is available here.

And finally, Edward II's half-nephew by marriage Sir Walter Manny, whom he never met (Walter married Thomas of Brotherton's daughter Margaret, who married firstly John Segrave) and who died in 1371. I just wanted to mention Walter's will because of the terrific names of various members of his family: he left money to his two illegitimate daughters, Mailosel and Malplesant, and to a cousin named Cishbert.


- John Nichols, ed., A Collection of All The Wills, Now Known to be Extant, of the Kings and Queens of England...
- Nicholas Harris Nicolas, ed., Testamenta Vetusta: Being Illustrations of Wills of Manners, Customs...


Ragged Staff said...

This is a nice collection, Kathryn. Fascinating the hints you get about people's relationships in life through their wills.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Ragged Staff! I really love wills and what they reveal about people. It's rather frustrating though that I know lots of other people of this era must have made wills, as there are refs to them dying testate, but the wills no longer survive. (Edward II's niece Eleanor Despenser and Eleanor's son-in-law Maurice, Lord Berkeley being two examples.)

Clement Glen said...

It is interesting to compare those wills from Medieval times to the Victorian wills that I have seen researching my family tree.

In some of those,Kathyrn, all they left were their best boots, jacket, mattress and copper kettles!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Love these! I do wish Eleanor's will had survived (and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's from the 15th century).

Anerje said...

Thanks for an interesting post - a fascinating read. And yes, just think what is contained in those will that are missing or lost.

Louis X said...

As always, a very fine post, ma chère Kathryin!

Making one's testament too early can be hazardous to one's health! Some people find out what is bequeathed to them and decide the person is worth more to them dead than alive. :/

However, writing one before going off to battle or on crusade is wise.

Louis X said...

Par Dieu!! I have misspelt your name, Kathryn! Kai's affliction is spreading, apparently. I shall have to have him bled or something. Please forgive my error. :(

Kathryn Warner said...

Clement, I *love* wills - how fascinating to see your family's! Haha, love the boots and kettles. ;)

Susan, Henry's would be a great one, wouldn't it?

Thanks, Anerje! I really wish Piers had left one! :(

Louis, thank you, and excellent point! Oh, and no problem at all about the typo in my name (which I hadn't even noticed...!) as I mistype my own name (Kahtryn, Kathyrn....) more times than I can count. ;-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Blame it on the Tippfehlerteufelchen (little typo demon). There must be a veritable hive of those, hiding in computers all over the world. :)

Were the wills of men executed as traitors still respected? Becuase they often were not in Imperial Rome. The emperor might snatch the fortune, and part of it went to the accuser. Committing suicide that ought to have saved the accused's fortune for the family, but more than one emperor (Tiberius started the habit) ignored that piece of law.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Oops, there must be grammar devil, too, or my brain is just fried right now (we have 37°C here) - there's a that too many in above comment.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele, it's crazily hot here too, and I think my brain has melted. ;) Tippfehlerteufelchen is such a great word!!

That's a fascinating question, and unfortunately I'm not sure of the answer, as I can't think offhand of men who were executed in this era leaving wills. Hmmmm....must think about that. Susan (Higginbotham) had a post recently about Anthony Woodville, executed in 1483, and I think Richard III did respect the provisions of his will.