22 March, 2012

Women Of Edward II's Reign: Margaret Wake, Countess Of Kent

A post today about Margaret Wake, lady of Badenoch and countess of Kent, who married Edward II's half-brother and was the grandmother of Richard II.  Writing about women of the early fourteenth century is often an exercise in frustration as they appear so rarely in the records, but anyway, here's some information about Countess Margaret.  (And as it's 22 March, let me just quickly mention Earl Thomas of Lancaster's execution on this day in 1322.)

Margaret was born sometime in the mid to late 1290s as the only daughter of John, Lord Wake (d. 1300) and Joan Fiennes; her brother Thomas, their father's heir, was born in 1297 or 1298, and there was also a younger brother, John.  She must have been at least a couple of years older than her second husband Edmund, earl of Kent, as her first husband John was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 leaving her with a small child or at least expecting one; Edmund wasn't even thirteen in June 1314 (born 5 August 1301).  Although the Wakes, who held lands in Cumberland and Lincolnshire, were not a particularly wealthy or influential baronial house, Margaret's ancestry was illustrious.  Through her paternal grandmother Hawise de Quincy, she was the great-great-granddaughter of Llywelyn the Great, prince of Wales, and his wife Joan, illegitimate daughter of King John.  Her mother Joan Fiennes was the sister of Roger Mortimer's mother Margaret (and the Fiennes sisters were first cousins of Edward II's brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford); her grandfather William Fiennes was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302; her great-great-grandfather Jean de Brienne was emperor of Constantinople; her great-great-grandmother Berenguela was the sister of Edward II's grandfather Fernando III of Castile.

In about 1312, Margaret married John Comyn, only son and heir of John 'the Red Comyn', lord of Badenoch and one of the guardians of Scotland, killed in church by Robert Bruce in February 1306.  John (the younger) was born sometime in the 1290s; I've previously written a post about his sisters Joan and Elizabeth.  After their father's death, the three children were sent to live in England, where they all married and spent the rest of their lives.  Little is known of John Comyn, except that Edward II granted him some lands and that he fought at Bannockburn on Edward's side - hardly surprising, given that Robert Bruce had killed his father - and died there, any dreams he might have had of avenging his father's murder in ruins.  His lands and the lands of Edmund Comyn, who must have been a relative but I'm not familiar with the Comyn family tree, were taken into the king's hands a few weeks later on 1 August 1314.  [1]

John Comyn and Margaret Wake had one known child, a son Aymer, named (presumably) after John's maternal uncle Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke.  On 16 August 1314, Edward II granted three manors in Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Berkshire, with a total annual income of almost 140 pounds a year, to "Margaret, late the wife of John Comyn son of John Comyn, who was lately killed whilst on the king's service in Scotland, for her sustenance and that of Aymer their son...".  On 26 May 1316, Edward made a grant to Margaret of 30 pounds a year from the Exchequer in place of one of the manors "in aid of her sustenance and expenses"; little Aymer is not mentioned, and had probably died by then.  [2]  A sad loss for Margaret.  The boy's death left his aunts Joan and Elizabeth Comyn as heirs to the Comyn holdings, their claim to the throne of Scotland, and their share of the inheritance of their childless uncle the earl of Pembroke.

Margaret Wake remained a widow for more than eleven years.  Her brother Thomas, a ward of Edward II, married Henry of Lancaster's eldest daughter Blanche in 1316, to the great annoyance of the king, who had planned to marry him to Piers Gaveston's daughter Joan.  There's very little I can say about Margaret during this period; at least her lack of wealth kept her safe from the rapacious Despensers, unlike her sister-in-law Elizabeth Comyn.  Somehow, in 1325, Margaret got to know the man who would become her second husband: Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, the king's lieutenant in Gascony during the War of St-Sardos.  It may be, as Penny Lawne has suggested, that Margaret accompanied Queen Isabella to France in March 1325 and stayed there with her for the next few months, and met Edmund this way.  [3]  Edmund, a king's son and brother, might have expected to make a better match than with a widow some years his senior who was not an heiress or from an especially influential family.  He turned twenty-four in August 1325 and had been earl of Kent since June 1321, and it's interesting to speculate whether Edward II - who, contrary to Edmund's modern and undeserved reputation for stupidity and gullibility, had always shown a lot of faith in his ability - had any bride in mind for him.  Edmund's elder brother Thomas had made a rather bizarre (by the standards of the era) marriage to the coroner of Norfolk's daughter Alice Hales, though at least in his case Edward II had entered into negotiations in 1320/21 for Thomas to marry King Jaime II of Aragon's daughter Maria, widow of Pedro of Castile.  (Unflatteringly for Thomas, Maria decided she'd rather take the veil.)  [4]

Given that Margaret Wake was Roger Mortimer's first cousin, and given also that Edmund supported Mortimer and Queen Isabella against Edward II in 1326, is it possible that Edmund was publicly allying himself with Mortimer and the queen by agreeing to marry her and that this was a reason for their marriage?  I doubt it.  Pope John XXII granted Kent a dispensation to marry "a woman related to him in the third or fourth degree"* on 6 October 1325.  [5]  This is a few weeks before the public association of Isabella of France and Mortimer and the queen's refusal to return to England, and if the papal dispensation was granted on 6 October, it must have been applied for at least a few weeks or months previously.  Roger Mortimer in the summer and autumn of 1325 was, whatever secret sympathies Edmund may (or may not) have harboured for him, an escaped traitor whom Edward II feared and despised, and this is too early for Kent to have associated himself with him against his half-brother, at least in public; it wasn't until February/March 1326 that he openly backed his sister-in-law Queen Isabella and her favourite.  No doubt the family connection helped then to strengthen the two men's alliance, but in the summer and autumn of 1325, it is most unlikely to have been Kent's primary motivation in marrying Margaret and may not have been a factor at all.  As Margaret had no lands beyond the dower she received from her marriage to John Comyn and Edmund therefore cannot have married her for her wealth and influence, that leaves us with a love match, as suggested by Penny Lawne.  Romantically, this would mean that both of Edward I's sons by Marguerite of France married women of their own choice for (apparently) love.  Awww.

* Margaret and Kent were second cousins twice removed via common descent from King John (Edmund's great-grandfather, Margaret's great-great-great-grandfather).  Margaret was also Edward II's second cousin twice removed through a different line as well as via the King John connection (King Alfonso IX of Leon and Berenguela of Castile were Edward's great-grandparents and Margaret's great-great-great-grandparents).

The St Paul's annalist says that Margaret and Edmund married around the time that Queen Isabella's uncle and the ancestor of the Valois dynasty, the prolific Charles of Valois, died, which was on 16 December 1325.  [6]  Edward II appears to have reacted to the marriage by temporarily taking Margaret's lands into his own hands - assuming she's the 'Margaret Comyn' in question, which seems likely - though he changed his mind and countermanded the order on 27 January 1326.  (I can't find the original order in the chancery rolls, but it can't have been much earlier than that.)  This would seem to indicate that Edmund and Margaret's marriage took place without Edward's knowledge and consent, though whether he interpreted it as Edmund moving into Roger Mortimer's camp is unclear.  The king confiscated his half-brother's lands on 24 March 1326, when it became evident that Edmund would not return from France as ordered.  [7]  In late September 1326, Edmund did return, with Isabella and Mortimer's invasion force and his young nephew the future Edward III.  Presumably Margaret travelled back from the continent somewhat later, when it was safer, especially as it is highly likely that she was heavily pregnant.  It probably goes without saying that we don't have the faintest idea what she thought about her brother-in-law's deposition and her nephew's accession, or about Edward's supposed murder.

Edmund, earl of Kent and Margaret Wake were married from about mid-December 1325 to 19 March 1330 and had four children, of whom one was born nineteen days after Edmund's execution:

1) Edmund, the elder son, probably born in late 1326, died as a child in the early 1330s.
2) Margaret, the elder daughter, presumably born in 1327 (unless perhaps she was Edmund's twin).  She married the Gascon nobleman Amanieu d'Albret and died childless at an uncertain date, at any rate before her brother John in 1352.
3) Joan, the younger daughter, born in September 1328 and her father's ultimate heir.  This is the famous Joan of Kent, who was married to Sir Thomas Holland and the earl of Salisbury's son at the same time, and who later married Edward III's eldest son and became the mother of Richard II.  Died August 1385.
4) John, the younger son, born posthumously on 7 April 1330; married Queen Philippa's niece Elisabeth or Isabel of Jülich; died childless December 1352, leaving his sister Joan, his only surviving sibling, as his and their father's heir.

Margaret must have spent much of the period of Isabella and Mortimer's regime pregnant.  In 1329 and 1330, her husband plotted with many others to free the former Edward II from captivity at Corfe Castle - the plot I have a lot to say about - and was beheaded for treason in Winchester on 19 March 1330, leaving Margaret at least eight months pregnant and with three children under four.  Five days before Edmund's execution, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer ordered her to be imprisoned at Salisbury Castle; "the countess is to be accompanied on the way by only two damsels and her children."  The day after Edmund's execution, the pair, having perhaps been informed that Margaret - Mortimer's first cousin - was heavily pregnant and unable to travel the seventy miles from Arundel to Salisbury, allowed her to remain at Arundel.  They ordered Roger atte Asshe, keeper of Arundel Castle and the earl of Kent's other lands and manors which had all been taken into the king's hands, to pay Margaret a mark a day for the sustenance of herself, her children and the two attendants they had allowed her.  Margaret gave birth to her son on 7 April.  Several entries in the chancery rolls reveal Isabella and Mortimer's preoccupation with having her "jewels and other goods" brought to them, and they ordered two men "to enquire as to jewels and other goods of the countess taken away," just in case she had tried to cheat them of anything.  [8]

Margaret must have been delighted when her nephew by marriage Edward III overthrew Mortimer and Isabella a few months later.  At the November 1330 parliament, the incredibly eventful one when Mortimer was sentenced to death, Edward II's supposed murderers were named and Lord Berkeley made his intriguing statement that he hadn't known of Edward's death till the present parliament, Margaret and her elder son, four-year-old Edmund, presented petitions.  Margaret's read:
"To our lord the king, if it pleases him, his liege, Margaret, countess of Kent, prays for herself and for her children [ Margarete countesse de Kent, pur lui et pur ses enfauntz]: that of his grace he be willing to cause to come before him in his present parliament at Westminster the record and the process by which your uncle and her good lord my lord Edmund, late earl of Kent was put to death, considering, among other things, if it pleases you, that Sir Roger de Mortimer, late earl of March acknowledged at his death before the people that the said earl was wrongfully killed...".

The petition was granted and the judgement against Earl Edmund of a few months previously was duly reversed.  What I find really funny about the response to Margaret and her son's petitions is the constant repetition that Edward II had been dead in March 1330 and that therefore it had been impossible for Edmund and his allies to free him: "...caused the same earl to understand that the Lord Edward, late king of England, the father of our present lord the king, and brother of the said earl, was alive, when he had been dead for a long time.  And they did this to encourage him to purchase the release of his said brother, as if it had been possible to do this"; "...willing to purchase the easement and the release of his same brother, which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead, as is said above"; "he had knowingly wished the said release to the prejudice of the king our present lord, which was completely impossible as is said above"; "...caused the said earl of Kent, who is dead, to understand that our lord the king the father of our present lord the king was alive when he was dead, and for that reason it had been impossible to have secured or purchased his release".

Countess Margaret's brother Thomas, who had fled from England in March 1330 having taken part in the earl of Kent's plot to free Edward of Caernarfon, died childless on 30 May 1349, perhaps of the plague; his widow Blanche of Lancaster lived until 1380, and his eventual heir would be his niece Joan of Kent.  Margaret succeeded briefly to the Wake lands before dying on 29 September 1349, in her early fifties, having lived long enough to see her daughter Joan cause a great scandal by being married to William Montacute and Thomas Holland at the same time.  Margaret outlived two husbands and at least two of her children (Aymer Comyn and Edmund of Kent, and perhaps also her elder daughter Margaret).  She has many modern descendants via her daughter Joan's sons Thomas and John Holland, half-brothers of Richard II.


1) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 206.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 164, 657.
3) Penny Lawne, 'Edmund of Woodstock (1301-1330): A Study of Personal Loyalty', in C. Given-Wilson, ed., Fourteenth Century England VI (2010), pp. 37-38.
4) Pierre Chaplais, English Medieval Diplomatic Practice, part 1, vol. 1, pp. 64-66.
5) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, p. 246.
6) Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 1, Rolls Series, 76, p. 310.
7) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 573; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 464.
8) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 499; Cal Close Rolls 1330-1333, p. 14.


Anerje said...

What a tangled and intriguing life Margaret seems to have led. Knew hardly anything about her - very interesting to read.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! Glad you liked the post!

MM said...

Does your head ever spin with the weaving in and out of royal ancestry lines? Because mine does. Great job on laying it out so that I could follow it!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Wendy! :) Mostly the lines are pretty clear in my head, though there are times when I just throw my hands up in despair. :)

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Thank you so much for bringing such scholarly, interesting work to us.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you for the kind comment! So glad you enjoy the blog.

Doris said...

Thank you for this very interesting post. What are your thoughts about Ian Mortimer's conclusions in "The Greatest Traitor" about Edward II.

Muzebl said...

This is fascinating! And I feel so much better about my struggles to track all this, even though I was raised Roman Catholic. She's my grandmother!