12 September, 2010

Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany

No, not that Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany - King John's nephew almost certainly killed in 1203, and Arthur's sister the Fair Maid of Brittany, imprisoned until her death in 1241 - but a later generation, Edward II's first cousins Duke Arthur II of Brittany and Eleanor, abbess of Fontevraud.

Arthur and Eleanor were the children of Duke John II of Brittany and Beatrice of England. Beatrice was born in Bordeaux in June 1242 as the third child of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, was the younger sister of Edward I (born June 1239) and Margaret, queen of Scotland (born September 1240), and married John of Brittany in 1260 when she was eighteen, a pretty advanced age by the standards of the time. John was born in 1239 as the son of Duke John I of Brittany, and through his mother Blanche was the grandson of Thibaut I, king of Navarre and count of Champagne. (Duke John I was the son of Alix de Thouars, duchess of Brittany in her own right and younger half-sister of the ill-fated Arthur and Eleanor mentioned above.)

As far as one can tell, Duke John II and Beatrice seem to have had a happy marriage, and John, although he was widowed in his mid-thirties and outlived Beatrice by three decades, never re-married. Beatrice died at the age of only thirty-two on 24 March 1275, less than a month after the death of her sister Queen Margaret, and was buried at her own request at the Franciscan friary in London, where her husband later made many benefactions. Her heart was buried at the abbey of Fontevrault. John and Beatrice's mother Eleanor of Provence were executors of her will. [1] John had to wait until 1286, when he was forty-seven, to succeed his long-lived father as duke of Brittany, and died on 18 November 1305 at the age of sixty-six in possibly the strangest freak accident of the era: a wall fell on him as he was leading the horse of the new pope, Clement V, around Avignon during his coronation (if that's the right word for popes, or do I mean inauguration?). John and Beatrice had six children: Arthur and Eleanor, of whom more below; John, earl of Richmond (died 1334), who spent most of his life in England and was known in childhood by the pet name Brito, which I think is very sweet; Marie, countess of St Pol (d. 1339), mother of, among many others, the countess of Pembroke, the count of St Pol and the countess of Valois; Pierre, viscount of Leon (d. 1312); and Blanche (d. 1327), who married Philippe d'Artois and was the mother of the countesses of Évreux, Fois and Aumale and of Robert d'Artois, of Les Rois Maudits fame. As well as being Edward II's first cousins, the Brittany siblings were second cousins of his wife Isabella of France, also a great-grandchild of Thibaut of Navarre.

Duke Arthur II, John and Beatrice's eldest child, was born on 2 July 1262 (and was possibly the second-eldest grandchild of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence after his cousin Margaret of Scotland). Arthur was married twice: firstly to Marie, viscountess of Limoges (d. 1291), mother of his successor Duke John III and another son, Guy; and secondly to Yolande de Dreux (d. 1330), countess of Montfort in her own right and dowager queen of Scotland as the widow of Alexander III. Arthur and Yolande - who sadly failed to fulfil Scottish hopes in 1286 and bear a posthumous child to King Alexander - had seven children, including Duke John IV.

Arthur was forty-three when he succeeded his father in 1305 following Duke John's unfortunate encounter with a wall, and attended the coronation of his first cousin Edward II at Westminster Abbey in February 1308, with his brother-in-law Guy, count of St Pol. His tenure as duke of Brittany was fairly short, and he died aged fifty on 27 August 1312 - nineteen days after his cousin Edward II sent him a letter requesting that he deal with an assault in Brittany on two English merchants [2] - leaving eight living children, including his twenty-six-year-old eldest son and successor John III. John was then married to Isabel, daughter of King Sancho IV of Castile and, like John himself, a first cousin once removed of Edward II; she had been proposed as a bride for Edward in 1303 by the regent of Castile, Edward's uncle Enrique. John III's first wife, another Isabelle who died in 1309, had been the eldest child of Philip IV of France's brother Charles de Valois, and after Duchess Isabel's death in 1328 John married Joan of Savoy, but was destined to die childless in April 1341. This led to the decades-long War of the Breton Succession between John III's niece Jeanne de Penthièvre - only child of his full brother, Guy - and her husband Charles de Blois (nephew of Philip VI of France) on one side, and John III's half-brother John, who eventually succeeded as John IV. (John III hated his half-siblings, tried to have them made illegitimate by having his father Duke Arthur's second marriage to Queen Yolande retrospectively annulled, and strongly favoured the succession of his niece Jeanne, though he changed his mind at the end of his life and declared his half-brother John to be his heir; on his deathbed he famously muttered "For God's sake leave me alone and do not trouble my spirit with such things.") [3]

Eleanor of Brittany (Alianore/Alienor de Bretagne) was the youngest child of Duke John II and Beatrice of England. She was born shortly before her mother's death in 1275 and was named after her maternal grandmother, the dowager queen of England. When Eleanor of Provence retired to the priory of Amesbury in 1285, she requested, or insisted, that two of her granddaughters accompany her and be veiled as nuns: Eleanor, and Edward I's fourth surviving daughter Mary. Unlike Mary, who had no vocation whatsoever and spent much time at the courts of her father and brother Edward II, Eleanor took well to religious life. She was veiled on 25 March 1285 at the age of ten, her six-year-old cousin Mary following on 15 August that year in a ceremony attended by Edward I, Eleanor of Castile and possibly the baby Edward of Caernarfon. [4] To provide for her granddaughter Eleanor, Eleanor of Provence granted the Berkshire manor of Chaddleworth to Amesbury. [5] The two girls were, however, not fully professed as nuns until late 1291, several months after their grandmother's death (Mary's seven-year-old brother Edward of Caernarfon attended).

At some point, Eleanor transferred to Amesbury's mother house of Fontevraud, where her mother's heart had been buried in 1275 [7] - Mary stayed behind in England - and became its abbess in 1304 when she was not yet thirty. There is much evidence that she was well-suited to the position: Berenice M. Kerr says that Eleanor was "determined to assert her authority" as abbess, and "[w]eak abbesses there may have been in the history of Fontevraud, but Eleanor of Brittany was not one of them. She was not prepared to have her authority or her decisions challenged." [6] Eleanor was, for example, not afraid to hallenge her royal cousin, Mary, who was accustomed as acting as the 'visitor' of Amesbury, the people who travelled around the manors controlled by the abbey to check their issues, audit their accounts, order any necessary repairs, and so on. In 1315, Eleanor appointed two Fontevraud brothers to act as the Amesbury visitors in Mary's place; Mary must have complained to her brother the king, as on 6 May 1317 Edward II wrote to the dean of Angers, saying that he had sent letters to Eleanor "requesting her to commission Mary, the king's sister, a nun of Aumbresbury [Amesbury], to visit and correct the houses of that order in England, and requesting him [the dean of Angers] to induce the abbess to put into effect the king's request, as she has delayed doing so, at which the king is surprised, especially as she has not been wont to make such corrections and visitations in person, and the king does not believe that any other lady of religion of that order in England or anyone else could execute the office more usefully than his sister..." [7] Edward wrote to Eleanor in rather more conventional and amicable fashion in January and March 1322, requesting that she would admit as nuns of Fontevraud women named 'Feidita Pellegrina, daughter of Elias Pelegrin' and Perotta de Beaumond. [8]

Eleanor of Brittany died in 1342 - I don't know on which date - at the age of sixty-seven, having served as abbess of Fontevraud for almost forty years. She was wealthy in her own right, receiving £700 from the estate of her father Duke John II, and bequeathed to Fontevraud numerous precious objects including manuscripts, tapestries, relics, vessels of gold, silver and crystal, and crosses set with precious stones. [9] An illuminated manuscript which she owned, containing chants of the liturgical year, has been set to music: the Graduel d'Alienor de Bretagne.


1) Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England, p. 103.
2) Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 544.
3) Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War: Trial By Battle, p. 371.
4) Howell, Eleanor of Provence, p. 300.
5) Howell, Eleanor of Provence, p. 301; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1281-1292, p. 128.
6) Berenice M. Kerr, Religious Life for Women, c. 1100-c. 1350: Fontevraud in England, pp. 133, 137.

Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 470; Kerr, Religious Life, pp. 136-137.
8) Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 510, 535.
9) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Susan Higginbotham said...

A treasure trove as usual! Love the "Brito."

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan! I always love finding these sweet little details.

Anonymous said...

Your research knows no bounds! Fascinating, as ever!

Btw, it's me - Anejre - Blogger won't let me in!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! :-)

Anonymous said...

As always I am completely in AWE of your research skills. Thanks for highlighting two of Edward's family that I must confess I didn't know too much about!

Kate Plantagenet

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Kate!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I always feel lazy about my picture posts with a bit text when I read your extensive research.

Well, there should be some posts about the Romans with less pics and more text during winter. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

I love your posts with all the pics, Gabriele! :-)

Shinjinee said...

I wonder about Duke John I, half nephew of Arthur I (murdered by King John) and Eleanor (imprisoned all her life by John and Henry III) wanting his grandchildren to be named Arthur and Eleanor. Arthur's death and Eleanor's captivity was so useful to both Henry III of England and Duke John ( not to mention his father Peter). Was the naming of young Arthur II a sop to Breton nobles and clerics unhappy with the House of Dreux or the death of their teenaged Duke, or was he trying to assuage a guilty conscience like Henry III in 1246? Im not surprised by the marriage of two usurping lines, just interested in the naming of Arthur II and his youngest sister. Personally, I think it was a sop to those Bretons unhappy with the House of Dreux, specifically Peter of Dreux.
PS I believe that the names of Arthur or John have been not so lucky for English princes either. Most interesting that John became a name for later dukes of Brittanyin the mid 1300s which it wasn't earlier. Given the names of earlier dukes or ducal consorts, I see no Conans or Robert's and only a few Peters or Guys among Breton princes.