696 years ago today, Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare married her second husband Sir Hugh Audley, as his first (and only) wife. Margaret, then aged twenty-three or almost - she was probably born in the spring or summer of 1294 - and a widow since the death of Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, on 19 June 1312, was the third child and second daughter of Edward II's sister Joan of Acre (spring 1272 - 23 April 1307) and her first husband Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford (2 September 1243 - 7 December 1295). Margaret's older siblings were Gilbert, earl of Gloucester (c. 10 May 1291 - 24 June 1314), killed at the battle of Bannockburn at the age of twenty-three, and Eleanor, Lady Despenser, born October/November 1292. Their younger sister was Elizabeth, born on 16 September 1295, who in 1317 was the widow of firstly the earl of Ulster's eldest son and heir John de Burgh, and secondly of Theobald, Lord Verdon. Hugh Audley was the son and heir of Sir Hugh Audley Senior and Isolde Mortimer, and in 1317 was probably in his mid-twenties.
Margaret de Clare Gaveston and Hugh Audley married in Edward II's presence at Windsor; the king's wardrobe accounts show that he provided three pounds in coins to be thrown over the heads of the bride and groom, and that he also gave thirteen shillings and four pence in oblations, which were distributed in his presence in the chapel in Windsor park. Presumably Margaret's younger sister Elizabeth married Edward's other great favourite Sir Roger Damory at about the same time, though oddly there is no record of the latter wedding in the king's extant accounts. Marriage to the de Clare sisters made Audley and Damory extremely wealthy, when the lands and goods of the late earl of Gloucester were divided among his three sisters and their husbands later in 1317.
Just as Elizabeth de Clare's marriage to Roger Damory produced one child, a daughter named Elizabeth Damory (May 1318 - 1361/62), Margaret de Clare and Hugh Audley's marriage also produced a single daughter, Margaret Audley, born sometime between early 1318 and late 1322. Elizabeth Damory was heiress only to her father Roger, not to her extremely wealthy mother, as Elizabeth de Clare had a son by her first marriage, William Donn de Burgh, earl of Ulster, who by the laws of primogeniture was the sole heir to his mother (in fact, he died young in 1333 and his only child, also Elizabeth, who married Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp, inherited her grandmother's vast wealth). At the time of her birth and for a few years afterwards, Margaret Audley was co-heiress to her mother with her older half-sister Joan Gaveston, Piers' and Margaret de Clare's daughter, born in early 1312. Joan Gaveston sadly died at Amesbury Priory on 13 January 1325, around the time of her thirteenth birthday and before she could make the marriage to John, future Lord Multon arranged for her in 1317 by her great-uncle and guardian Edward II. This left her half-sister Margaret Audley as sole heiress to their mother's share of the enormous de Clare inheritance in England, Wales and Ireland.
The huge wealth of the de Clare sisters was an enticing prospect for any man lucky enough to marry one of them, as he would control the lands by right of his wife as long as she lived and, as long as they had a living child together, after her death as well. Elizabeth, ordered back from Ireland by her uncle Edward II after the death of her brother Gloucester, was abducted from Bristol Castle by Theobald de Verdon in early 1316 and forcibly (I presume) married to him, to the fury of Edward II. Verdon in fact was dead within six months of the marriage, leaving Elizabeth pregnant; she gave birth to their daughter Isabella in March 1317, a few weeks before she married her third husband Roger Damory. Eleanor, the eldest de Clare sister, had been married to Hugh Despenser the Younger since May 1306 and thus was safe from abduction while he lived (her heir, incidentally, was her eldest son, also Hugh, born in 1308 or 1309), but Hugh's execution in November 1326 left her vulnerable, and in early 1329 she too was abducted and forcibly married, by William la Zouche, widower of the earl of Warwick's widow Alice de Toeni. Margaret de Clare lived in the household of and thus under the watchful eye of her uncle Edward II while a rich widow from 1314 to 1317, and thus remained unmarried until the king arranged her wedding to Hugh Audley, but her daughter and sole heiress Margaret Audley suffered the same fate as her aunts Eleanor and Elizabeth. (As, indeed, did two other rich heiresses of the era, Alice de Lacy and Maud Clifford, a de Clare cousin.)
On 28 February 1336, an entry appears on the Patent Roll (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1334-1338, p. 283): "Commission to Robert de Bousser and Adam de Everyngham to find by inquisition in the county of Essex what persons broke the close of Hugh de Audele [Audley] at Thaxstede [Thaxted, Essex], carried away his goods and abducted Margaret his daughter; and to certify the king fully of the whole matter."
On 6 July 1336, the following entry appears (Ibid., p. 298):
"The like [commission of oyer et terminer] to Richard de Wylughby, Thomas de Loveyne, Thomas Gobyon and Robert de Jedeworth, in the counties of Cambridge and Essex, on complaint by Hugh Daudele that Ralph de Stafford, Ralph son of Ralph Basset, [nineteen other men are also named] and others, broke his close at Thaxtede, carried away his goods, abducted Margaret his daughter and heir, then in his custody, and married her against his will."
So by then, Hugh Audley had discovered who had abducted his daughter, and had also learned that she had been forcibly married: Sir Ralph Stafford, a widower born in 1301 and thus around twenty years older than Margaret Audley (I'm only speculating, but I would assume that Margaret was born nearer the end of the early 1318 to late 1322 possible window for her birth than the beginning, given that she was still unmarried in 1336). Unable to annul the marriage, and with Ralph Stafford high in Edward III's favour, Hugh Audley and Margaret de Clare had perforce to accept it, and the king's awarding the earldom of Gloucester to Hugh in 1337 may have helped the process. I'd love to know how Margaret Audley felt about her marriage and her husband, who had removed her from her home with the aid of at least twenty men, but sadly history does not record her feelings or opinion. She and Ralph Stafford had half a dozen children, two sons and four daughters, and via their daughter Katherine and her husband Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, are the ancestors of, among many other illustrious descendants, all the kings of France from Louis XIII onwards, kings of Spain and Poland, archdukes of Austria, Marie Antoinette, queen of France, and Anna Jagiellonka, queen of Hungary. Hugh Audley was a 'favourite' of Edward II, the only one in fact to survive the reign, and married a woman who in most other circumstances would have been out of his league. This marriage arranged by Edward II, and the forced marriage of their daughter nineteen years later, ultimately resulted in the births of a fair few eminent people. I just wish I knew more about Margaret Audley's feelings on the matter, and I can't help being extremely glad that I'm not a rich heiress of 700 years ago. Being perhaps only fifteen years old, snatched from your home by a large group of men to be married off to a man two decades your senior, forced to have sex with him and bear his children, with absolutely no punishment whatsoever meted out to him for these actions - well, words fail me.